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Mass. correctional treatment provider sees potential in offender mentoring

October 6, 2010
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Post-release program has ambitious goal for reducing recidivism

Managers of Massachusetts’ in-prison addiction treatment programs don’t flinch at the thought that they are being asked with their latest initiative to reduce participants’ recidivism by 50 percent in five years. They consider that goal realistic based on the opportunity they have to fulfill an unmet need in recovery support for offenders leaving prison.

Spectrum Health Systems, Inc., which has been under contract with the state corrections department to conduct in-prison substance abuse treatment since 1993, will use a three-year, $300,000 U.S. Department of Justice grant to provide peer mentoring services for an estimated 100 individuals a year. Male and female inmates who have received residential treatment while incarcerated will become eligible for the services within 90 days of their release date. Program managers expect the mentoring to focus on both recovery guidance and assistance in obtaining employment, housing and community services.

“They will receive support for as long as it’s necessary to stabilize them in the community,” says Earl Warren, director of Massachusetts correctional services for Spectrum, which has treatment operations in eight states. “We expect that the contact will be high-intensity at first, and then available as a safety net to the individual later.”

Warren calls this post-treatment support the “missing link” for the corrections department and the community, in bridging the prison and community re-entry experiences for the offender.

Spectrum is now identifying peer volunteers in the community for an effort that will launch Dec. 1. While the peers will not have to have a criminal background in order to be selected, Warren says Spectrum has found that individuals in the justice system tend to relate better to those who have had similar life experiences.

“We will try to match people on their socioeconomic level and substance use history,” says Warren. “We’d also like to have gender-specific matches, as that takes out a dynamic that doesn’t need to be there.”

Warren considers the goal for reducing recidivism to be clearly reachable, given that this program will help give released inmates the tools they need to put their post-release plans into action.

“All offenders leave prison with a re-entry plan, but implementing it often can be beyond their capabilities because they can’t navigate the system,” Warren says.

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