Feature | Hard Labor: Too few drug-treatment options means too many pregnant addicts in Salt Lake County Metro Jail | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

June 25, 2008 News » Cover Story

Feature | Hard Labor: Too few drug-treatment options means too many pregnant addicts in Salt Lake County Metro Jail 

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Sitting in Judgment
For 3rd District Court Judge Terry Christiansen, it never gets any easier to send a pregnant woman to jail. But a letter he once received, and which he has held onto ever since, convinced him it’s the right thing to do. The letter was a simple “thank you” from a young mother who had appeared before him in court. Christiansen had made sure she got cleaned up in jail. The woman credited Christiansen for saving her life. She named her child after him.

Christiansen says he has never over-sentenced a pregnant woman, though more than once he has set probation contingent on her getting and staying clean. The first time Christiansen made this ultimatum was in 2002. He told an addicted woman, “If you want to destroy yourself with drugs, that’s one thing, but your child, that’s another.”

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THE FIX
Addiction is not a new problem for mothers, fathers or children who’ve grown up with abuse. Overcrowded jails and long waiting lists for community drug treatment are other familiar ailments. Because these problems don’t go away, society tunes them out—but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a solution. Below, individuals share ideas and possible solutions to the problem. But there is always room for more discussion. Members of the public may attend meetings of the Social Justice Master Plan and the Criminal Justice Advisory Committee to learn what can be done to come to grips with addiction treatment. n

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Patrick Fleming, director of Salt Lake County substance-abuse services

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The key to dealing with addiction in the short term is more treatment capacity both in the jail and in the community. The key to dealing with addiction as a state and nation in the long term is to get addiction treatment into our basic health-care coverage for every Utahn and American. In doing this, we bring the “market” back into the addiction picture—a well-regulated market for treatment and prevention services is really the only future solution we have. n

Crystal, recovering addict

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[With Jail treatment] You had classes like [Alcoholics Anonymous] and you would get time off your sentence for completing the class. You finish and you get five days off, and you’re out of your cell more often. For me, it was just a game. I know they try the best they can, but I’d rather they put the money into [community] treatment programs. n

Rollin Cook, Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Bureau of Corrections

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The Oxbow Jail is a conscientious solution to our escalating jail-overcrowding problem and lack of available treatment beds. It would not cost our citizens an exorbitant amount of money and would provide many proactive opportunities to address the myriad of issues facing our criminal justice system. n

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For more discussion of dealing with addiction and criminal justice, the Salt Lake County will be holding meetings open to the public: n

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The Salt Lake County Social Justice Master Plan: July 15, noon, Salt Lake County Government Center, 2001 S. State, Rm. 2003. n

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Salt Lake County Criminal Justice Advisory Committee: June 26, noon; Aug. 28, noon, Salt Lake County Government Center, 2001 S. State, Rm. 2003. n

In these cases, Christiansen has found some resistance with the jail. “The jail hasn’t always wanted to accept them,” he says, adding that, on several occasions, the jail had opted not to accept pregnant inmates until the judge made it clear there was no better option.

“Treatment is obviously the best option,” Christiansen says. “If the person is not amenable [to treatment], I think that the court has little alternative but to do everything possible to have that individual incarcerated, most importantly for the child. That child is at the whim of the mother. If she abuses meth, cocaine or heroin, the last thing we want is to have a drug-addicted child born into the world.”

When juggling taxpayer dollars and inmate health care, sometimes the greatest costs are the ones hardest to calculate.

Since 90 percent of county jail inmates are released after a few months to a year, these inmates are soon back in the community. If they can’t get adequate drug rehab in jail and, if the community lacks residential treatment programs, paroled inmates stand a greater chance of spiraling down into addiction and crime—again. The rates of recidivism for inmates drifting back into drug use are often staggering. Without treatment in the jail or community, inmates are at least 50 percent likely to continue abusing drugs, and for addicts with more chronic habits, the rate can reach up to 90 percent, according to Patrick Fleming, director of Salt Lake County substance-abuse services.

Criminal Boot Camp
On her first night in the Salt Lake County Metro Jail, Crystal, then seven months pregnant, fell into a knockout sleep, the kind that comes after pushing the body and nerves for days through an inexorable rush, stoked by hit after hit of meth. Cut off from her fuel, Crystal slept, as if anchored to her bed. She would barely drag herself out of her bottom bunk (mandatory for pregnant inmates) to get her meals, then shuffle back to her cell and crash back into sleep.

Crystal’s first week in jail was in the fall of 2006, a short stint while prosecutors tried to get a grand-theft-auto charge to stick. She would be released after a week, only to return less than a month later on the same conviction—this time for three months

But for Crystal, county jail was hardly a wake-up call.

“Jail was always a way to catch up on sleep and eat,” Crystal says, adding, “but you also could get a new contact list.”

“There are at least 60 other cellies [in your block] so you have a whole new list when you get out,” she says.

Crystal took part in the jail’s offered treatment programs but admits she wasn’t serious about getting better. “Everyone is always like, ‘Oh, I want to change,’ but it’s just bullshit that we say.” Jail and its treatment program were timeouts from life at the feverish meth-injected intensity and the “running and gunning” of crimes Crystal and her gangster boyfriend took part in to support their habits.

Crystal and many others participated in the Salt Lake County Metro Jail’s CATS (Correctional Addiction Treatment Services) program. The program is considered a therapeutic community model—where inmates address one another’s addictions. The program has enjoyed success with many inmates and is highly regarded by those who work in criminal justice, including Christiansen. “I can’t tell you how many lives [the CATS] program has saved,” the judge says.

Some, however, question how efficient an institutional setting for treatment can be.

“The jail, over time, has become more about drug programs and training programs,” says Salt Lake County Councilman Mark Crockett. “But it’s still a relatively one-size-fits-all answer.”

Crockett is heading up the new county Social Justice Master Plan committee, tasked with examining treatment and other criminal-justice issues. Crockett’s priority is to increase treatment and opt for more sophisticated treatment programs to deal with different types of addicts.

“It has to be true for some lower risk people that some treatment programs can be more effective and cheaper in lower security environments,” Crockett says. “But jail is really expensive and it’s a boot camp for higher levels of crime.”

“It’s just a game in there, it really is,” adds Crystal. Whether it was people lying their way through treatment, playing cards and betting their commissaries or even the 60- and 70-year-old women swapping medications, jail, she says, offered an expansive network of fellow criminals.

Crystal did time with inmates from every walk of life: fellow gangsters, construction workers, business professionals, mothers and grandmothers.

Whether by offering new clients or hookups, the jail environment made Crystal a better-equipped junkie. “It’s just a new inner ring of people who you can get drugs from [when you get out].”

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