Detox unit at Essex jail provides hope

IMG_7888Rep. Roy joined several SAFE Coalition members for a tour of the Essex County Correctional Facility with prison officials, Wrentham District Court probation officials, and officials from Norfolk County Sheriff’s office.

Sheriff Frank Cousins began the tour with a presentation on his 42 bed detox facility which opened on December 7, 2015. We saw firsthand the innovative approach the sheriff is using to combat substance abuse disorder with pretrial detainees. The unit provides a positive environment for detoxification and long-term planning and provides a 28-day comprehensive treatment program to pretrial detainees to effectively address their addiction.

Detainees wear a blue uniform, not the prisoner’s typical orange jumpsuit. The correction officers are dressed in khakis and polo shirts instead of the standard prison guard uniforms. And those residing in the unit attend five counseling sessions per day, as well as one-on-one meetings with a counselor.

Sheriff Cousins calls the unit a “ground-breaking” approach to treating non-violent prisoners with addiction. Rather than sending them to jail and leaving them to fend for themselves when they are released, the detox unit is designed to treat the addiction and arrange a long-term care plan while avoiding incarceration. Upon completion of the 28 days, individuals may be able to dispose of their cases and utilize court mandated tools as an alternative to further incarceration.

Typically, these pretrial individuals go through a 1-3 day “spin-dry” detox process in jail while awaiting further notice from the courts, and as a result their addiction is never adequately addressed. With this new process, individuals are remanded to the Essex County Sheriff’s Department’s Detox Unit by the presiding judge.

The sheriff’s department created the detox unit in a separate space within the jail compound. The walls were freshly painted, and a steel gate was replaced with a door in an attempt to create a space that feels more like a hospital than a jail.

The inmates sleep, eat, exercise and attend counseling sessions all within the confines of the unit.

“What we’re really trying to do is change the culture,” said Sean Lebroda, director of the detox unit. “We’re trying to work with them so they’re not left to their own devices. It’s a culture shift.”

Section 20B of Chapter 127 of the Massachusetts General Laws provides the Sheriff with the power and discretion to assign certain detainees to a pre-trial diversion program. Upon completion of the 28-day treatment program individuals may be able to dispose of their cases and utilize non-custodial tools as opposed to traditional incarceration. Individuals who successfully complete the program may be recommended to continue with services such as probation, day reporting at an Office of Community Corrections, drug testing, electronic monitoring, and in some instances sober houses.

The cost of running the detox unit, which includes paying a medical provider and addiction-treatment professionals, is about $1.7 million per year. Cousins said the unit should be able to treat 500 people per year, which comes to about $3,400 per person.

Sheriff Cousins provided us with many good ideas that we can hopefully implement in our area.

For the Boston Globe report on the unit, click here.  To view the Channel 7 News report on the unit, click here.

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