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Breakthroughs in offender treatment

October 23, 2012
by Sarah Huggins Scarbrough, PhD
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 In collaboration with City of Richmond, Va. Sheriff C.T. Woody, Jr., sheriff’s deputies, and the Richmond City Jail’s Men in Recovery Program, Kingdom Life Ministries (KLM), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that runs solely on donations, operates in the city jail in Richmond. Serving individuals with alcoholism and other drug addictions, including many who have exhibited habitual and violent criminal behavior over an extended period of time, KLM offers peer-to-peer recovery support services, meaning that people who have been successful in their own recovery deliver the recovery message to offenders.

On any given day, rehabilitation and recovery services are provided to up to 120 men in what used to be the worst tier of the Richmond City Jail. Upon release, KLM ( continues to provide re-entry and treatment services, including housing.

Using a mixed methods approach, a study examined KLM’s effectiveness during two stages: while the men served in the program were incarcerated, and upon their release. This study’s qualitative and quantitative findings revealed the effectiveness of the KLM program. The study found an 18% decrease in recidivism compared to that seen in a control group, as well as a savings of almost $8 million to the Commonwealth of Virginia in costs related to criminal justice and to hospital emergency room usage.

Secondary data examining other programs in and outside of Virginia were also reviewed in order to develop best-practice recommendations for substance abuse treatment organizations. Finally, it was also discovered through this research that private organizations can provide more efficient services than public programs, and can do so in a more cost-effective manner.

Key components

From its inception by the recovery community organization McShin Foundation ( in February 2008, KLM has incorporated these core elements into all of the treatment it provides: spiritual/faith-based principles, the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) “way of life,” and behavior modification. It is the combination of these factors that make this program particularly innovative, as most other programs do not include all of these elements.

Behavior modification includes identifying personal triggers that lead addicts to use or continue using drugs and to engage in negative/violent/criminal behaviors. These triggers include people, places and/or things that remind an individual of their active addiction. They often involve certain family members who are enabling them, not knowing what to do with idle time, loneliness, abandonment, dealing with fear, and/or not being comfortable with asking for help.

Resentment is a common trigger found in program participants that can be seen coming from multiple areas. Participants might cite “the legal system,” “schoolteachers because they used to correct me,” or “my father not being there for me.”

Anger, another trigger, builds up for many reasons. One might hear comments such as, “My main anger was because I let my Mom down by becoming an addict,” or, “Basically, I turned to the street to be raised because I had no Dad and then when I was 15 I became an addict. I am 45 now and in jail.” Anger is one of the most common characteristic traits that is continually battled and addressed.

Many of the men committed violent crimes that were a result of manifested anger. Others often engaged in domestic violence or street fights because of anger management issues and substance abuse, as a program participant describes here:

“I became someone who most people hated and feared. Being 300 pounds and 6 feet 6 inches, mean and angry, makes people scared and intimidated. Becoming incarcerated in 2009 changed my life forever. The anger management class in the program helped me release anger and deal with certain issues that were hindering me and had been sealed inside of me since I was 16. Anger was my drug of choice because I needed it to act out on any issue with anger and bitterness, regardless of the outcome and the outcome could have been death.”


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