Erie County Sheriff’s Office to kick off special program for inmates battling addiction

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- Last Fall, Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard and his team started working on the Addiction Assistance Program. It aims to provide more resources to inmates battling addiction.

“Just getting them through the withdrawal, getting them off the drug here isn’t enough,” Howard said.

Inmates almost always get clean inside the Erie County Holding Center via the detox temporary housing unit, but keeping them sober upon release is another challenge.

In January, overseeing the medical treatment of inmates moved from the County Health Department’s jurisdiction to the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.

Since 2013, the percentage of inmates who require detox continues to grow, with almost 42 percent last year.

The new program will provide inmates with support upon their release to maintain sobriety, something they didn’t have previous.

Inmates would also be matched with addiction counselors from community organizations, like BestSelf, formerly Lake Shore Behavioral Health.

Kelly Whitman is the Vice President of Substance Use Disorder Services at BestSelf.

“We’re going to into the facilities to provide support services in the form of counseling, we’ll do assessments, and build rapport with individuals in the setting,” she explained.

Once the inmates leave the Erie County Holding Center, they’ll remain in contact with their counselors.

It’s the immediate window following release when corrections officers say addicts often relapse.

“We are looking to provide actually the transport from this building two blocks right to the building,” First Deputy Superintendent of Compliance for the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, Mike Reardon told News 4.

The building two blocks away from the Holding Center is BestSelf.

“I’ve actually witnessed family members standing on Delaware, waiting for hours for an inmate to get released on Delaware Avenue and the inmate comes out of the door, sees their parents and runs out the back,” Reardon said.

To make this all work, the Sheriff’s Office needs a Discharge Planner, a person who would essentially act as a liaison between the inside and the outside.

“Having the discharge planner, it’s a warm hand-off with a community based agency such as BestSelf. The discharge planner is that linkage that we have with the community,” said Christa Cutrona, the Division Director of Correctional Health for the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.

Providing inmates Vivitrol, a drug that can decrease cravings and stop addicts from actually experiencing a high, is another aspect of the program.

Special housing dedicated solely for inmates battling addiction is also on the table; Sheriff Howard compared the layout of the special housing unit to the veteran’s housing unit at the Holding Center, which he stated is now a national model.

The special housing unit for inmates battling addiction would have both men and women’s quarters.

Thursday afternoon the County Legislature approved the Discharge Planner position, which has an annual salary of around $100,000 including benefits.

The Sheriff’s Office will start looking for candidates to the fill the position immediately, so that the Addiction Assistance Program can get up and running.

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