For many of them, prison is a revolving door because of a habit they can’t kick, a habit exacerbated by over-prescribed painkillers and dirt-cheap heroin.
Gannon hopes to disrupt this cycle by making incarceration a time of healing.
He has designated a section of the Morris Township facility as the “Hope Wing,” where inmates who wish to break their addiction can live together and receive help from staffers trained in substance abuse- and anger management counseling.
The jail will work closely with the county Department of Human Services, CARES (Center for Addiction Recovery Education & Success), and other community organizations to help these inmates obtain housing, employment, education and support services when they get out, Gannon said on Thursday, at a press tour of the wing.
Melody Runyon, associate director of Morris County Prevention is Key, a Rockaway-based nonprofit, praised the jail program as a welcome shift from the common perception of addiction as a moral weakness.
“It’s a family disease,” Runyon said. “Addiction is not just about the addict. It’s about their family, friends and loved ones.”
Often, she said, people with multiple incarcerations lack crucial planning for re-entry to society.
“At the Hope Wing, they’re giving them skills that they will utilize once they go back onto society. And our peer recovery specialists can then continue to work with them after they leave the facility,” Runyon.
Simply showing interest in an inmate’s recovery can make a big difference, suggested Superior Court Judge James DeMarzo.
“Most people who are addicted have really low self-esteem,” DeMarzo said.
The Hope Wing is an extension of Gannon’s Hope One program, a van with a specially trained team that travels around the county offering help for persons struggling with drug issues.
Admission to the Hope Wing is voluntary; it’s available to nonviolent male inmates who commit to participating in individual and group counseling. Twelve-step principles are incorporated, said Kenneth Palmisano, a certified alcohol and drug counselor at the jail.
“You have to treat the mind, body and spirit,” Palmisano said.
The jail’s four-person treatment team–two counselors, an educational specialist and a chaplain–must act swiftly to help this prison population. Since the state revamped the bail system, the average incarceration at the lockup has decreased from 32 days to just 11 days, said Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Dominick Andico.
Nine male inmates have been transferred to the Hope Wing, which can accommodate 64 prisoners. Plans call for a similar program for female inmates, who must be separated from the men, said Undersheriff Alan Robinson.
No new hires or capital expenditures were required for the Hope Wing, which uses previously vacant space, according to jail officials.
Freeholders Thomas Mastrangelo, Kathryn DeFillippo and Deborah Smith took Thursday’s tour. Smith commended Gannon for making a “top-notch” facility that much better.
“Every life that you turn around is a miracle, and it’s marvelous,” said the freeholder.
Data gleaned from the Hope Wing’s first few months will help Gannon determine whether to seek a state license for a full-blown drug treatment center, which would bring more intensive rehab services to inmates.
Either way, he said, the bottom line is the same.
“At the end of the day, it’s about crime reduction,” the Sheriff said. “If we can do all these programs, and I can help them with jobs, and I can help them with their addictions, and their employment, and their education, that will knock crime down.”