Our View: Jail program holds promise | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Jail program holds promise

The Routt County Sheriff’s Office is implementing a first-time program at the county jail that will provide addiction counseling to inmates.

We think this program is necessary and aims to address  a problem — addiction — that is at the root of many crimes in Routt County. Oftentimes, criminal behavior is the result of a person’s drug addiction or alcoholism, and according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, of the 2.3 million people who are in American prisons and jails, 60% display signs of clinical addiction. They drink and drive. They steal to support a heroin habit, and if landing in jail is rock bottom for them, then offering addiction counseling while they’re still behind bars could help set them on a path of recovery once they’re released.

Funded by a modest $19,000 state grant, the program will employ the services of Craig Thornhill, a licensed professional counselor and addictions expert, who has been providing similar services to Moffat County inmates. According to Thornhill, the program has been successful there and has helped reduce rates of recidivism with 50% of inmates continuing counseling after they’re released.

When someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol is arrested and booked in jail, they often suffer from withdrawal, which can cause severe physical and mental side effects. In the past, these inmates received only medication to help with their withdrawal but not the longer-term assistance counseling can offer, which resulted in the unfortunate reality that many of them cycled back through the criminal justice system because their addiction was untreated.

The goal of the jail program is to offer inmates counseling with the hopes they’ll continue their addiction treatment once they’ve been released. Lt. Joseph Boyle, who has been overseeing the local jail for the past year, has seen the need for addiction counseling services first hand, and he is the one who spearheaded efforts to get the program started in Routt County.

“We want to ensure we can provide individuals in our custody with all the support and tools necessary to set them up for success when they are released into our community,” Boyle was quoted as saying in a May 2 article in Steamboat Pilot & Today, and we think that mission is an honorable one.

The program also serves to offer additional support to law enforcement officers who didn’t necessarily enter their profession to deal with society’s mental health issues. But often, it’s our deputies, police officers, firefighters and other first responders who find themselves responding to situations involving people who are mentally ill or need help with problems like addiction. It’s the unintended consequence of our nation’s broken mental health system, and we’re glad to see our local community on the frontlines of developing innovative solutions.

In a community like Steamboat Springs, this program is essential. Mental health services here are limited. Often people are placed on a mental health hold and kept in the jail for 72 hours to await a bed in a treatment facility or mental health institution, which are very hard to secure. Providing these individuals with counseling during their incarceration in the Routt County Jail is humane and has the potential to save lives.

At a glance

At issue: A new addiction counseling program is being launched at the Routt County Jail.

Our View: The program is necessary and seeks to find a local solution to a problem affecting our community and communities throughout the nation.

Editorial Board

  • Logan Molen, publisher
  • Lisa Schlichtman, editor
  • Robin Stone, community representative
  • Steve Hofman, community representative

Contact the Editorial Board at 970-871-4221 or lschlichtman@SteamboatPilot.com.

We commend the Sheriff’s Office, and in particular Lt. Boyle, for pursuing the jail counseling program and securing a grant to fund it. It’s not a panacea, but it’s a start and an important part of solving a community problem that deserves some attention and resources. And if this program is successful, we hope the county moves beyond an initial pilot to an appropriately funded long-term program serving those with addictions that put them on the wrong side of the law.

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