Sometimes a statistic just startles you. In Washington State, a study revealed that “mortality rates are much higher immediately after released prisoners leave prison than before or afterward. In the first two weeks after release, the mortality rate is 49 deaths per 100,000 person-weeks, falling quickly to 17 deaths per 100,000 person-weeks in the subsequent two-week period. This mortality rate immediately following release is much higher than the mortality rate of the incarcerated population, which is only 4 deaths per 100,000 person-weeks.” [i] The author goes on to say that ¾ of these are drug overdoses. Because of decreased use of opioids in prison, the addict develops intolerance to the drug. Even a dose similar to pre-incarceration could be fatal.
In an English national study, prison-based opioid substitution therapy was associated with a 75% reduction in all-cause mortality and an 85% reduction in fatal drug-related poisoning in the first month after release.[ii] How important it is to have a warm hand off to a local opioid substitution therapy program when the individual returns home.
Many times due to the hindrances of having valid ID, transportation, civilian clothing, access to Medicaid and health care the returning citizen faces barriers to the care that they require. With reentry case management these barriers can begin to be addressed before the prisoner is released. Sober housing for the returning citizen allows them transition safely rather than being homeless or potentially returning to an unsupported or toxic living environment.
One way the issue of addiction is being addressed is through diversion programs or a Therapeutic Court like the Fairbanks Wellness Court offering drug and alcohol treatment for those individuals who plead no contest or admit guilt for a felony drug or alcohol conviction. Fairbanks Wellness Court currently has 27 participants and room for three more in an intensive two year program.
In 2017, 820 men and women returned home to Fairbanks, Alaska from incarceration after completing their sentences. Those with felony records and a few with misdemeanors who had the most risk of recidivism were offered case management services 30 days before release to continue for 6 months after release. Fairbanks Reentry Case Management Program caseload is 40 returning citizens, this is a voluntary program introduced in our state prisons. Other agencies offer varying degrees of case management services for their program participants, including the Fairbanks Rescue Mission, Restore, Inc., Interior Aids Association, Interior Center for Non-Violent Living and soon, No Limits/Prosperity House.
Fairbanks Reentry Coalition is bringing together these agencies and others to address the barriers and gaps in services. Our meetings are held the first Thursday of the month, the next one is August 2 at 10am at the City Hall Council Chambers in Fairbanks.