Alabama Department of Mental Health Associate Commissioner Kent Hunt and Alabama Voices of Recovery President Mike McLemore discuss Alabama’s Recovery Month events and the importance (and success) of addiction treatment.
You can find the video here.
The Jefferson County Commission’s plan to zero out the county’s $2.7 million contribution to the Community Corrections Program in the next budget would compromise public safety and dismantle a key cog in the criminal justice machine, one that has helped keep down jail populations and reduce recidivism, court and law enforcement officials said.
The move will cripple a program that has been held up as a model in the state and throughout the country, said presiding Judge Scott Vowell.
The county’s top criminal justice officials, including Vowell, District Attorney Brandon Falls and Sheriff Mike Hale, have signed on to a plea to the Jefferson County Commission to continue funding the UAB TASC program, or Treatment Alternatives For Safer Communities.
The program runs drug courts, mental health courts and domestic violence courts — cases that would be shifted back to the normal judicial system. TASC also currently supervises 3,342 felony offenders in the community.
“Without funding, there will be no one to supervise these offenders and hold them accountable for the conditions of their release,” the letter from the Criminal Justice Management Committee says. “There will be more victims, more arrests and more people in the county jail and prison.”
As it prepares a budget for the year beginning in October, the commission is eliminating all support for agencies that are not departments of the county. Even with the passage of a replacement occupational tax, the county is sticking with drastic cuts because of the economy and uncertainty over how much the new version of the tax will generate.
But UAB TASC supporters say cutting the $2.7 million the agency receives will jeopardize the operation of the court system and seriously compromise public safety in the community. The county provides half of the agency’s budget, and UAB provides space and administrative support. That base of support allows TASC to generate the other half through contracts with state agencies, offender fees and federal grants, according to Foster Cook, the agency’s director.
TASC has been supported by the county since 1977, but its importance has grown dramatically in recent years. In the late 1990s, under a federal court order to reduce jail overcrowding, the county considered building an expensive new jail, but instead created new programs to divert offenders into treatment or alternative sentences.
Among the programs that could be eliminated if the cuts go through:
Risk assessments and background checks judges use to make bail decisions.
Supervision and drug testing of defendants released on bond.
Indigent offender bonds.
Community service and litter details.
Theft restitution court.
Domestic violence victims advocacy services.
Substance abuse treatment beds.
Mental health treatment beds.
Drug testing for released prisoners.
Vowell said that without TASC’s offender screening, judges will have difficulty deciding who is safe to release and who should be kept in jail. “Without that information the judge is going to have to make these decisions blindly,” Vowell said.
Judges will likely err on the side of caution and the jail population will swell, he said.
Under a federal court agreement, the county has room for only 1,000 prisoners, and right now they are near that maximum. There are 933 prisoners in jails in Birmingham and Bessemer, Vowell said.
The alternative courts that TASC runs shift many drug offenders out of the clogged court system into an alternative where they receive treatment. The same goes with offenders with serious mental health problems who had previously languished in jail without treatment.
The proposed cuts in Jefferson County come at a time when the state court and penal system are trying to spread Jefferson County’s innovative approaches throughout the state.
If TASC can’t function, the courts, and ultimately the prisons, will fill, Vowell said.
“In the end, that means more people are going to go to the state penitentiary,” Vowell said.
Please watch this video to see conversations with women at Tutwiler prison. Special thanks to the Alabama Department of Corrections for making the conversations possible.
The Commission on Women and Girls in the Criminal Justice System met one on one with 10 inmates at Tutwiler Prison in Elmore County Monday. They came to the Wetumpka facility to hear from inmates about which programs they think work and which don’t.
“I think it’s about time. I’ve been doing time here in and out of this prison since 1982 and this is the first time it has every really happened,” Deborah Smith, inmate.
As you may have noticed from our blog, the news, life, etc. the issue of women’s imprisonment is complicated. So many issues are a part of the conversation, from prison conditions and incarceration rates, to health care, poverty, and reentry services. Lucky for all of us, and especially women behind bars, there is a plethora of books and films dedicated to unearthing and presenting factors, stories, and practices that make us all better informed and keep the conversation moving forward.
What better way to digest all of that information than with people in your own community (if you are not located in Alabama, you are at least a part of the community of ideas)? AWRN will be launching a Book/Film Club in the coming weeks that will be held one Saturday each month at AWRN’s Birmingham office (or in the nearby Rhodes Park weather permitting). Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to participate. More details to follow.
AWRN recently sat down with Mike McLemore, president of Alabama Voice’s of Recovery (as well as wearing many other hats), to talk more about the state of Alabama’s drug treatment programs, recovery, and women’s services.
AWRN: Tell our readers more about Alabama Voices of Recovery.
McLemore: Alabama Voices of Recovery is a statewide parent of a couple of other recovery advocacy groups across the state of Alabama, the largest primarily being in Morgan, Madison, Limestone, Lawrence, Cullman and Randolph counties and organized in a chapter called FORMML. The other large chapter is found in the Mobile area. The object of advocacy groups in this advocacy organization is to give voice to people who have no voice, that is to people in long-term recovery, as well as to do our best to help secure state and federal funding for the issue of treatment, to help fund and grow a recovery-oriented system of care that is not only focused on the initiation of treatment, but on maintaining and sustaining recovery for people who have substance abuse issues.
One major thing we work on is dispelling the rumor that recovering people…you know there is a silent majority out there that’s in the tens of hundreds of thousands of people who are in recovery, by whatever pathway they got there, people in long-term recovery who know one ever notices because they become normal, productive people—if you will allow me that—but the only people who ever really get any visibility are people who have multiple attempts, like the Lindsay Lohans. And I mean them no disrespect because the nature of the disease of addiction is relapse, but primarily they are the ones that get media coverage and people in long-term recovery don’t get media [coverage].
AWRN: AWRN’s mission is to reduce the number of women in prison and often we talk about the number of treatment “beds.” That is, we discuss the idea that not everyone convicted of a drug offense is in need of inpatient, 24-hour care; rather, there is evidence of the need to utilize outpatient care too as a means of diverting women away from prison or jail, keeping them in their communities, and providing treatment.
McLemore: I will do my best to give you my take on that. What’s happened in the legal judicial system from my perspective is they’ve somehow gotten the idea that residential treatment is the only thing that works. There is a misconception in the community, most especially the legal judicial community, and a big misconception at Pardons and Paroles and the Department of Corrections, which is that treatment consists of a residential treatment modality, when basically the whole circle of services would be important.
It’s not that people don’t need residential treatment, but outpatient [treatment] is more cost effective, and is just as successful. But there’s a whole mentality we have to change in people who know nothing about the business of treatment…we spend lots of dollars on unnecessary kinds of treatments when we need to be spending money on providing services in counties which don’t have any, which there are 22 counties that don’t even have outpatient services in the state of Alabama.
There is a terrible gap between women’s [residential treatment] beds and men’s beds, and my take on that is that there is really no women’s organizations outside of advocacy organizations who stand up and clamor that we need residential beds for women. Some of the reasons for that is that it’s more costly to treat women than it is men because they have children and other kinds of issues. Historically across our state women are kind of neglected, most especially women with children. Even though they have priority admission status, a lot of women don’t access treatment.
AWRN: So, capacity is low?
McLemore: Capacity is very low and really if you are looking at the public sector, many—if you will allow me this—citizens don’t even know how to access these services. Most of the advertisements that you see are for programs that have third-party reimbursements. They are private. They are advertised everywhere, but it’s difficult to seek out a publicly-funded treatment program because they are not marketed. Some of the number one referral sources in the state of Alabama are court referrals, P&P, drug court, so most of the beds are sort of captured by the legal judicial system however that may fall. Many people are accessing services at the wrong levels of care. Just because you have been arrested for a drug crime does not make it a drug-dependency diagnosis.
AWRN: Tell us a little more about the 22 counties that do not have services.
McLemore: Basically those counties do not have a door. That doesn’t mean there are not treatment services somewhere, but their county does not have a door. And if you start looking at the issue of people with dependency issues, most especially people involved with the legal judicial system, they don’t have driver’s licenses. So if you are in a rural community with no mass transit, how do you access services of any kind? You have to be dependent upon a loved one, neighbor, family, or friend. So you are looking at crossing counties. But in general, they just don’t have services at all, most especially publicly-funded services where there is a facility that can seek out public dollars and get reimbursed for providing those services.
AWRN: You work across the southeastern coast as a board member and regional representative of Face and Voices of Recovery— how would you say Alabama measures up?
McLemore: We are very far behind, even with the other Southeastern states. Most of the other states have treatment on demand, detox on demand—we only have 2 residential detox centers in the state of Alabama that are publicly funded. Both of them are located in Jefferson County.
AWRN: Could you clarify what “on demand” means?
McLemore: Treatment on demand is where you can show up and say you need treatment and there is a door waiting. The average waiting list to access residential services [in Alabama] is approximately 6 weeks. At any given time in the state of Alabama 500-600 people, both male and female, are waiting to access a residential bed. Before you can get into a residential bed in the state of Alabama, you must have an assessment, a clinical assessment to determine a dependency diagnosis or diagnostic impression, and some of the waits for those are 6-8 weeks. So, you may wait 6 weeks for an assessment and 6 weeks to access residential treatment.
AWRN: Our network is interested in knowing more about how many released prisoners are served by treatment providers across the state at the point of reentry, and how many prisoner or parolee referrals are received by providers directly from agencies of the criminal justice system.
McLemore: It would be hard for me to speak for all providers, but I’ll give you my general impression. There is probably not a treatment modality in this state that is in the public sector. Again, my personal belief is that the referral base is primarily legal judicial—Department of Corrections, Pardons and Paroles, as well as the court referral program, Community Corrections, and drug court—which are basically, as it appears from my limited understanding and my observation, are the number one referral agents.
Now how you document referrals is a whole different story. There are statistics and data out there that can be gathered from the Department of Mental Health that will tell you how many referrals come from legal judicial. There is a new system that everyone will put entry codes into which will give us more information as time goes on. It is a relatively new reporting system at the Department of Mental Health.
AWRN: Thank you for taking time to talk with us today.
Questions about this interview? Please leave a comment below.
A 21-member Board of Directors advises and directs Faces & Voices of Recovery, a national network of over 20,000 individuals and organizations joining together to speak out and support local, state, regional and national recovery advocacy. McLemore is one of thirteen regional representatives who will work to link recovery advocates within their region and build the recovery movement from the grassroots up.
The Southern Coast serves Alabama, Florida and Mississippi.
Alabama Voices of Recovery (AVR) also received the meritorious recognition as a recovery community organization on June 25, 2009. The award was presented during the second annual Joel Hernandez Voice of the Recovery Community Awards reception, held in Washington, DC. Mike accepted the award on AVR’s behalf.