Project In-Reach Provides Mental Health Care to Prisoners, Reduces Recidivism
Victoria battles with bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression, a diagnosis she received in high school. Casual marijuana use, and choosing the wrong set of friends, led to a poisonous heroin addiction that nine trips to rehab could not fix. After years of drug addiction, unhealthy relationships, and drug-related criminal activity, Victoria found herself behind bars for the 5th time in eight years, and she was finally ready to try something different.
“I really wasn’t addressing the underlying issue, which wasn’t the drugs; it was myself, my self-esteem, my emotional health,” Victoria said.
Victoria enrolled in Project In-Reach, and began creating a new life for herself while she was still behind bars. Project In-Reach is a prevention and intervention program for incarcerated adults that are at-risk or have been diagnosed with mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders. Inmates are referred to the program 60 to 180 days before their scheduled release date for therapy, group treatment, care coordination, and a host of other services to help them successfully transition healthy, independent lives upon release. Once released, clients are linked with community resources that help them maintain their mental health and sobriety. The program is operated by the Neighborhood House Association, in conjunction with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
The rehabilitation program has proven that treatment of mental illness and substance abuse disorders keeps clients out of jail. Project In-Reach has achieved a recidivism rate of just 26 percent in the first 6 months after release.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, a similar program, had a 47.5 percent recidivism rate for the same length of time in 2013.
“You have to get them trained and prepared before they go out in the community. Re-entry is not a joke,” said Dr. Mona Minton, Project In-Reach Program Director.
Pre-release treatment makes Project In-Reach unique amongst similar mental health programs. Dr. Alfred Joshua, the Chief Medical Officer for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, believes that treating clients while they are still incarcerated is why Project In-Reach has achieved success with recidivism.
“I think that’s the best chance you have to prevent recidivism into the jails. If you can target somebody before they’re going to be released, then you have a higher likelihood of preventing them from getting into the same behaviors that would get them back into jail,” Joshua said.
In the long-run, low recidivism rates save taxpayers money. Project In-Reach estimated that is has saved San Diego County $2 million since the program was created in 2012.
In three years, the program has served almost 700 individuals, with an overall recidivism rate of 22 percent. The program is currently run from three detention facilities, with plans to add an additional facility in the next two years. The Project In-Reach team hopes the additional facilities will increase number of prisoners they treat, and reduce the number of mentally ill prisoners who return to jail.
“Really these individuals shouldn’t be in jail, they should be treated for their mental health issues, for their substance abuse issues, and based on that, provided the adequate resources,” Joshua said.
Victoria is taking advantage of all of the resources Project In-Reach has given her. She was released seven months ago, and has been clean and sober for almost two years. She enjoys the strong network of recovering addicts who help keep her focused, and her one-on-one time with a therapist has helped her tremendously.
“I feel like they’ve done nothing but push me in the right direction, and give me a little nudge in the right way. Other than that, I probably would’ve remained stagnant, and not really had any direction to go,” Victoria said.
This is exactly the kind of transformation Dr. Minton and her team want for all of their clients. Dr. Minton believes that everyone needs help sometimes. She has witnessed mental health and substance abuse treatment transform lives, and says no one should be ashamed to seek the help they need.
“By making the impact, you can change their belief system…Are they terrible people? No. They are just like us,” Minton said.
For more information on Project In-Reach, visit www.neighborhoodhouse.org.