Public Safety Through Treatment: A New Direction for County Corrections

Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, Greenfield, MA

Public Safety Through Treatment: A New Direction for County Corrections

Levin Schwartz, LICSW


Amid a national opioid epidemic, the political context continues to lean toward the over incarceration of people struggling with addiction and mental health. Typically, people are sent to facilities ill-equipped to intervene effectively, keeping them stuck in disenfranchised positions upon release. Evidence suggests the way to improve the system is by focusing on the process to change the outcome. Operating on behavioral health principles and evidence-based strategies and acknowledging that high recidivism is partly due to historically ineffective “correctional” environments, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) decided to transform the context of incarceration into a locked treatment facility.

Sheriff Christopher Donelan’s philosophy is that “reentry starts on day one.” The assessment data indicated that 86 percent of indi- viduals were high-risk for recidivism. The proportion of clients who self-report heroin or opioids as their primary problem contin- ues to steadily increase: 30 percent (2016), 39 percent (2017), to 40.2 percent (2018, first quarter). Most clients had severe child- hood trauma, and about 85 percent met diagnostic criteria for co- occurring disorders. The data was clear: it was not enough to offer a program to a cadre of individuals, FCSO needed to transform the entire system by offering clinical treatment, educational and vocational programs, reentry services, and post release case management to all resi- dents in the facility – while maintaining an individual’s agency to opt-out.

Housing units became therapeutic step-down communities, or- ganized similarly to social model recovery homes: lights out re-gimes for adequate sleep, nutritional diets, community building activities, and invitations to connect with appetitive behaviors (e.g., guitar lessons, yoga, acting, art, gardening, exercise, college classes). Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT) became included in the menu of services. Both on admission and before release, clients who meet medical criterion for opioid use disorder are offered Buprenorph- rine/Nalaxone (generic brand of Suboxone) or injectable Naltrex- one (Vivitrol). A comprehensive reentry plan is established for every resident: securing identification documents (state identification, birth certificate, and social security cards); Department of Children and Families, Department of Mental Health, and Veteran’s care coordination; and aftercare planning including activating insurance, ordering prescription medication, and making primary care, outpatient therapy, and MAT appointments. Once in the community, clients are offered post release outreach support by Reentry Case Workers (RCW).

The FCSO clinical reentry program is based on two core frame- works: 1) risk-need-responsivity (RNR) and 2) a behaviorist ap- proach to trauma-informed dual-diagnosis treatment and reentry case management. The program begins by having clients complete three assessments: the LS/RNR (criminogenic risk/needs assess- ment), a comprehensive clinical assessment by a LICSW/LMHC, and a reentry assessment by a Correctional Case Worker (CCW).

The clinical model does not focus on symptom reduction as a treat- ment target; rather, it is a transdiagnostic model that aims to in- crease behaviors whose absence play a role in human suffering and behavioral dysfunction: psychological flexibility, emotional regula- tion, behavioral inhibition, empathy, distress tolerance, and inter- personal skills. Treatment is organized to address the eight crimino- genic risk factors identified in the LS/RNR using clinical modalities such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Dialecti- cal Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Thinking for a Change, and voca- tional, educational, family, and prosocial leisure programming.

According to the Council of State Governments, 60 percent of individuals released from county correctional facilities have five or more prior convictions. Breaking the cycle of recidivism takes remarkable motivation and commitment; for this reason, FCSO has found that Motivational Interviewing (MI), DBT, and ACT can be a particularly effective combination. These modalities help professionals teach clients concrete behavioral change strategies in a way that empowers individuals to maintain their motivation in the face of tremendous adversity.

Initially, the old adage “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink” was heard from some recalcitrant participants and staff; however, the third often forgotten stanza is particularly apt: “but you can salt the oats.” FCSO salted the oats utilizing a series of contingency management strategies that link earned good time and classification in lower levels of security to individual’s lev- el of participation in treatment. The other major structural compo- nent is the “phase-up system” (FCSO’s version of a token econo- my) in which effective individual and community behavior is reinforced through client-identified incentives: elective program- ming, phone cards, portable DVD players, additional time off their sentences, barbeques, and family activities.

After a client leaves FCSO, they are provided intensive, wrap- around reintegration services in the community from RCWs. The RCW focuses on long-term case planning rather than crisis resolu- tion, collaborating with community partners to build relationships and address stigma by empowering the clients and educating the community. The RCW delivers evidence-based interventions within the context of the standardized clinically focused model, working to reinforce and generalize the skills learned in FCSO into their natural environment: enhancing life skills and capacities, support- ing effective system navigation, behavioral coaching and reinforce- ment of valid and effective behaviors, and working with clients to stay in the moment, noticing behavior in context and clarifying if a behavior moves them toward or away from who and what truly matters most.

Correctional environments have a long history of ad- verse control policies which vicariously affects clients and staff. To increase capacity and resiliency, regular training and team meetings occur. CCWs and their licensed behavioral health care partners complete cross-training on security, trauma-informed treatment principles, and evidence-based treatment interventions. During the academy, all new uniformed officers participate in train- ing on RNR, behaviorism, and substance use disorder principles, with annual in-service trainings. All human service personnel re- ceive intensive three-day training in criminogenic risk and need andare certified to administer the LS/RNR. Weekly, DBT and ACT con- sultation meetings occur, and each unit has a case management meeting focused on specific client needs. Monthly didactic lectures are held to further staff skills in ACT, DBT, and MI. Finally, quar- terly training retreats provide more in-depth opportunities to re- ceive support in critical areas, such as cultural sensitivity, staff resil- iency, and secondary trauma.

Qualitative and quantitative data suggest that the clinical and reentry services are affecting positive behavioral change. With the initiation of treatment units in 2013, egregious acts of violence have declined – dropping from 103 to 57 (45 percent) in the first year. In focus group research by Alternative Solutions Associates, Inc. (ASA) and a Smith College MSW intern, participants in the program stated, “From here I feel like I’m not going out with noth- ing,” and “The program helped me [learn] to walk around the hole instead of falling in.” Recently awarded grants from NIDA and SAMSHA will support research to study post release opioid use trajectories after MAT in jail. But most significantly, the program aims to lower recidivism for the overall population. The gold stan- dard of recidivism studies are those that follow participants for three years. FCSO is in year two of a three-year recidivism study and the outcomes look promising. According to ASA, after two years, participants in the program had a 23 percent rate of recidi- vism compared to the baseline of 42 percent (19 percent reduction).

Overrepresentation of people struggling with addiction and mental health is precipitating criminal justice reform. If incarcera- tion continues to be part of the solution, enabling institu- tions to provide evidence-based treatment followed by transitional support post release is demonstratively a more effective public health strategy to address offending behaviors and lower recidivism. The FCSO’s recent efforts have made great strides toward this end, working to improve the lives of clients, their families, and the community.

About Levin:

Levin Schwartz, LICSW, is the Assistant Deputy Superintendent and Director of Clinical and Reentry Services at FCSO and an ad- junct professor at Westfield State University. Levin received his MSW from the Smith College School for Social Work.

Retrieve the document on-line by clicking the above link


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