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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Jail population may indicate need for more drug treatment options

By Anthony Varriano

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

On April 17, there were 22 inmates on the Dawson County Correctional Facility jail roster. There were five empty beds available to the county, an anomaly as of late at the local jail has been running full often, Warden Tom Green said.

Of the 22 inmates, eight were serving time for possessing dangerous drugs or the means to make dangerous drugs. 

Three inmates were booked for possession of marijuana, a nonviolent crime now legal in two states and available for medicinal purposes in another 19 states, including Montana.

The other five inmates were booked for methamphetamine, a growing problem in the Bakken. 

“It’s seeming to become the norm unfortunately,” Green said. 

An expansion to the jail has already been proposed to address the growing jail population, much as a result of drug trafficking in and around the Bakken.

According to research by the US Justice Department, two-thirds of drug offenders leaving state prison will be rearrested within three years, and nearly half of released drug offenders will be returned to prison either through a technical violation of their sentence, like failing a drug test, or because of a new sentence.

“If they don’t get a good understanding of addiction, whether they’re in jail or out of jail, it will be more difficult for them to recover,” said District II Alcohol and Drug administrator Jerry Schlepp. 

“You either treat them upfront to keep them from going (to jail), which is going to cost considerably less, and if you send them (to jail), some people actually learn how to become better criminals,” Schlepp added.

According to a study by Research and Development Corporation, or RAND, a dollar spent on drug treatment saves society seven and a half dollars in reduced crime and regained productivity. So research not shows treatment to be more effective than incarceration when it comes to inserting drug offenders back into jobs and society, but it’s more efficient as well.

In its most recent state evaluation about six months ago, Schlepp said the Glendive District II Alcohol and Drug Program received a 100-percent rating.

“I don’t know of another program in the state that scores 100 percent,” he added. “District II has always been really high in those evaluations.”

According to the National Treatment Improvement Evaluation Study conducted by the US Department of Health and Human Services, offenders who went through treatment experienced a nearly two-thirds decline in overall arrests, and drug possession arrests dropped by more than 50 percent. 

Despite the evidence, Schlepp said a lack of funding is hindering the program’s ability to serve its clients. 

“We are operating at way higher case loads than we have ever operated on, higher than anywhere in the state,” he explained. “It would be nice to hire more people to do the outpatient before they ever end up in jail. Where we really need somebody is in Sidney.”

District II gets its funding from the state, insurance companies, Medicare and its clients, but the state only pays for clients that have no way of paying, Schlepp said. 

“We’re obligated to charge only in accordance with ability to pay and in accordance with the poverty level,” he saidd.

Charges vary from client to client based on income. Those with higher annual incomes pay more and those that have no means of paying pay nothing. Schlepp said the problem is there are more offenders who can’t afford to pay because of the increase in the cost of living due to the Bakken, which lowers the overall funding for the program, making it more difficult to hire more counselors.

“I’m just really proud of the staff,” Schlepp said. “They’re stretched so thin but still find a way to help our clients.”

District II holds weekly courses and private counseling for clients struggling with various addictions like alcohol and gambling. The courses provide addiction education, give clients an opportunity to share their experiences with others and provide a support group that can help prevent relapses.

Anthony Varriano can be contacted at rrwriter@rangerreview.com.

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