Routt County continues to fund substance abuse counseling for inmates — and it’s working |

Routt County continues to fund substance abuse counseling for inmates — and it’s working

A progressive substance abuse counseling program at the Routt County Jail, headed by Lt Joseph Boyle, pictured above, received another year of funding on Tuesday.
Derek Maiolo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — An initiative to treat substance abuse disorders for Routt County Jail inmates received another year of funding on Tuesday.

The Routt County Board of Commissioners approved and renewed a contract with Craig Thornhill, a local addiction counselor who has seen success with weekly group therapy sessions at the jail since beginning the services in May.

Thornhill’s work is funded through a grant with the state’s Jail Based Behavior Services program, which allocates money to behavioral health services at county jails throughout Colorado. The contract allows for some flexibility in the time Thornhill spends at the jail, but establishes a minimum of four hours of therapy services each week and a maximum annual pay of $36,000. 

Lt. Joseph Boyle, jail supervisor, obtained the grant as one component of a progressive, holistic approach to rehabilitate inmates and reduce recidivism. Other services at the jail that are not substance-abuse specific treatments include a meditation group and psychotherapy sessions through Mind Springs Health.

In the past, treatment options have been hard to come by for drug and alcohol offenders, which created a cycle of incarceration. By providing group therapy sessions, Boyle hopes to break that cycle and address the underlying causes of criminal behavior and substance abuse. 

While the state does not collect data on the health of inmates in 64 county jails, a 2017 report from the Colorado Department of Corrections found that about three-quarters of inmates enter state prisons addicted to drugs or alcohol.

At the Routt County Jail, 15 inmates have gone through the substance abuse-specific therapy program since it started, according to Thornhill. In August, the first female inmates sought counseling, three of whom are still in detention and engaged in services.

“Word is spreading about the program and is helping to make people more comfortable,” Boyle said.

Opiates, methamphetamine and alcohol have emerged as the most common substances inmates in the program have struggled with. Often, people with addiction disorders have underlying mental health disorders, according to Thornhill, such as depression or PTSD.

Of his patients in the jail, he said, “I can’t think of any cases that did not also have a mental health disorder.”

While some of the people have fallen out of the program or stopped seeking treatment following their release from jail, others have remained in therapy and taken steps to improve their lives. 

One man is preparing to take the GED test in hopes of getting a better job following his release back into the community. 

“I don’t think he would have done that had he not been involved in the group,” Thornhill said. 

Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan took a moment Tuesday to congratulate Boyle on the program’s progress and his progressive, forward-thinking approach to addressing substance abuse in the criminal system. 

Thornhill has seen similar success at the Moffat County Jail, where he also provides substance abuse-specific therapy.

But challenges to more effective treatments remain. Chief among them, according to Thornhill, are the varying lengths of inmates’ prison sentences and a lack of mental health services in the county that make it harder to get long-term help. It takes the brain about 90 days of sobriety to change its addictive behavior, Thornhill said, which is why he requires that inmates in his group therapy program have prison sentences of at least 60 days.

He also described the difficulties convicted felons face when searching for well-paying jobs. Often, they revert to dealing drugs or other criminal means of finding fast cash, Thornhill said. 

Resolving those issues will take a broader community approach, he added. 

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

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