HANCOCK COUNTY — The nation’s opioid crisis and the issues it’s caused locally have prompted conversations among local officials on how best to offer treatment and recovery programs to jail inmates.

Currently, the jail hosts Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings for inmates. Counselors visit regularly to speak with addicts about their substance abuse issues, and staffers offer medication to some upon release to help curb drug cravings.

But these programs can’t grow, and new ones can’t be introduced, without more space, say leaders of the county sheriff’s department, which operates the facility. They’ve promised if taxpayers approve a tax hike to fund a $55 project to restructure the county’s current inmate housing system, including building a new jail, they’ll work to overhaul the inmate drug treatment programs.

They say they’ll model their efforts after those in Dearborn County, where grants and court fees paid by people convicted of crimes cover the $161,600 annual operating costs of in-house treatment and counseling for inmates.

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Opponents of the project argue county funds shouldn’t be spent on drug treatment, that taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill for helping someone battling addiction get clean. But supporters of the new jail hope if the new programs inside the new jail are successful, they will reduce re-offending rates, decreasing crime in the community.

Voters will have their say on May 8 as to whether the county can borrow $55 million to finance the construction of a new jail and the renovation of other criminal justice system facilities, hiking property taxes to finance the project.

Plans call for the construction of a new three-story jail — an estimated to cost $35 million — that will address overcrowding and give jail staffers the space they need to offer the additional educational and treatment programs.

The current facility is too full — the inmate population reached 196 on Monday in a facility built for 157 — and wasn’t built to offer classes or programs the county would like to introduce, said Keith Oliver, the jail commander.

There is no true classroom, Oliver said. The makeshift space jail administrators created a few years ago out of an old visitation room can hold only about eight people at a time and is difficult for security officers to guard, he said.

In hopes of fostering support among inmates interested in recovery, the jail staff has tried to house together those addicted who are trying to get clean, Oliver said. But the jail is so overcrowded, they can’t create a “recovery block” as they would like, he said.

About 90 men and 115 women participated in drug-therapy programs last year, records show; but only about 30 can participate at the time.

Designs for the proposed new jail are still being finalized; but county leaders have asked their contractors to include a designated recovery wing, where some 30 inmates who are dedicated in getting clean can be housed, separated from their fellow inmates and meet regularly with counselors, creating a therapeutic community.

It’s a model that’s been successful in other county jails, including facilities in Boone, Hamilton and Dearborn counties, local leaders say.

County officials — including council members, commissioners, and representatives from law enforcement and probation — have twice visited the Dearborn County jail to talk with their counterparts there about the recovery programs offered at the facility, located in Lawrenceburg, about 80 miles southeast of Greenfield.

Those meetings inspired Hancock County officials to present the Dearborn County’s Jail Chemical Addiction Program, or JCAP, as a model for the offerings at the new Hancock County Jail.

Dearborn County created its recovery program about 10 years ago out of a desire for true community safety and rehabilitation, said Dearborn County Judge Sally McLaughlin.

Law enforcement leaders there were seeing a consistent pattern of folks getting arrested with drug or paraphernalia possession, sitting in jail for a few days or weeks, and then bonding out, ready to hit the streets again to find more drugs, McLaughlin said. Eventually, the defendant would land back in jail for another petty crime, and the cycle would begin anew, she said.

So, by combining resources from the Dearborn County probation department and sheriff’s department, they crafted a 90-day inpatient treatment program inside their jail, McLaughlin said.

Aside from the construction of the wing, Dearborn County started its JCAP program with little impact on taxpayers, McLaughlin said. Grants and fees paid by probationers cover the program’s $161,600 annual operating costs, she said.

Dearborn County built a new wing onto its existing jail that now serves as a recovery pod. Its male cell block can hold 16 men, and the female block houses eight. Participants meet daily with county-employed, master-level counselors and social workers, in groups and individually, while working through 12-step and other treatment programs.

Along the way, they form positive relationships with their fellow inmates that continue upon their release, meaning they can hold each other accountable as they acclimate back to everyday life, she said.

Nearly 400 inmates have participated in the program, each having volunteered to participate. The program’s leaders don’t measure success with a traditional pass-or-fail mentality, McLaughlin said; instead, they compare the re-offending rate of JCAP inmates to the re-offending rate of other Dearborn County inmates.

Statistics show there is a 17 percent chance a JCAP participant ends up back in jail, and a 42 percent chance non-JCAP participants will re-offend.

Those are the results Commissioner John Jessup said he wants to see in Hancock County. Usually, he wouldn’t agree with using taxpayer dollars to fund treatment programs like this; but treating people who are addicted is a cost-saving measure in the long term that the county can’t pass up, he said.

Keeping people out of jail, treating the addictions that land them in the facility, is the only way to truly lower the inmate population, he said. And the county needs more space in order to truly accomplish that task.

“It’s cheaper to help them,” Jessup said.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.