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This week, I met with the supervisor of the Substance Abuse and Recidivism Reduction program at the Criminal Justice Resource Center in Durham, Tremaine Sawyer.  While I prepare to meet with individuals from jails in surrounding counties and states in order to discuss their substance abuse treatment programs, I wanted to ensure that I fully grasped the magnitude of the program operating in our local city – the faults and the successes.  My meeting with Tremaine ended with me asking “What do you think needs to be changed? What can I look for that will be genuinely useful to you and your program?” 

When I first applied for this program, I wanted to make myself and my work as resourceful and impactful as I possibly could. In order for me to truly assist the STARR program and improve its current state, I must understand where the downfalls lie.  Tremaine informed me that one of the biggest struggles they face is ensuring that the treatment program they provide is long enough to make an impact on an inmate with a history of substance abuse issues, however, the current 60 days is not long enough. These inmates often need months of treatment to reverse years of substance dependency, and while the STARR program operates as a means of providing treatment to an individual while incarcerated, this treatment must go beyond the correction facility.  How do we lengthen this treatment within the jail? How do we encourage individuals to seek treatment post-incarceration? How do we ensure that these resources are available to all in need?  And how long is long enough? 

Mental illness and substance abuse often coincide – where there is one, there is likely the other.  The STARR program altered their treatment approach to address both issues in a more holistic way to ensure that the entire individual is considered during treatment.  One may look at an inmate struggling with substance abuse and think “they chose that route,” however, I would challenge you to rephrase your thought pattern and question “Are they struggling with mental health issues? Did they have the resources they needed before becoming incarcerated? What led them to partake in drugs in the first place?” The issue of substance abuse is far more complicated than an individual simply using drugs for “fun,” and it often boils down to a lack of resources both for the individual and for the organizations that assist them. 

I admire the individuals at the STARR program and their efforts to treat substance abuse at a time in the person’s life where they are vulnerable and are in a potential “turning point,” but 60 days alone is not enough. These next weeks I look forward to researching the methods used by other jails to ensure that the STARR program is as effective as possible and that it can reach as many inmates as funding allows.  However, we must start addressing the root of the problem rather than treating it after the problem has ensued.  This means treating and screening for mental health issues at a young age, making substance abuse treatment widely available and accessible, ensuring community members have access to employment, education, after school activities, etc. Which leads me to question, why did Durham County decide to increase their police budget this month rather than invest in these services?