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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The Breaking Point
When Crystal’s youngest, Karma, was born, the baby tested positive for methamphetamine at levels so high, doctors told her it was if she had been shooting up meth directly in the womb. After the delivery, the state Division of Child and Family Services removed the baby and placed her in foster care.

Crystal soon had her breaking point. Different factors collided, including a sobering realization that the game she had been playing her whole life was ruining her and that all her relationships were based on abuse and violence—from her older brother to her gangster boyfriend who raped and beat her. By age 23, she had given birth to two children yet had never really been a mom to either.

“When I was high, I knew I was [a good person] but my actions weren’t showing it,” Crystal says. “I knew I was different, I just had to prove to myself that I wasn’t going to be a junkie.”

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Bills From Behind Bars
County inmates generally cost taxpayers approximately $80 a day for their time in jail, an already hefty price tag that doesn’t count the extras that pregnant inmates receive: n

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  • Prenatal vitamin packets = $4 a month.
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  • Two corrections officers to escort inmates to check-ups: $25 each per hour, with a three-hour minimum = $150
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  • Basic prenatal lab work = $210 per inmate.
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  • Physician’s delivery cost = $1,300
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  • Hospital vaginal delivery cost = $4,500
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  • Hospital Caesarean-section delivery cost = $10,500
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Source: Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Bureau of Corrections n

While finishing her last stint in jail, Crystal opted for residential treatment and was fortunate to land in an empty slot at the Odyssey House’s women and children’s program in Salt Lake City. Crystal believes it wasn’t just luck that got her into that program; it was meant to be.

Once a teen mom who sold her firstborn’s diapers for drug money, Crystal is now a few months shy of graduating from treatment and is the house supervisor for the center’s other 12 moms. For the past 16 months, she has slowly worked through the steps of treatment, learning all the skills she never picked up at her own home: how to change her bed, make breakfast, getting her daughter ready for school.

During the day, Crystal takes classes on balancing a budget, job-interviewing skills and writing a résumé. Every second of the day is managed to push down an addiction that once was the only thing she knew.

crystal_mcbride_seated.jpg
Crystal says she realizes that wrestling with addiction requires help, and from jail to community treatment, she was lucky enough to have spent almost two years in various levels of rehabilitation. It’s a regimen that most likely has saved her life and has allowed her to reunite with her two children. Her oldest child, Brianna, has been through therapy in the Odyssey House program. Crystal says Brianna has learned to forgive her mom for a childhood forsaken by meth.

The biggest quandary in a story like Crystal’s—and there are hundreds of them—lies in the gulf between jail and the community. Getting clean is a tremendous challenge, and people in the corrections business know it. Sending a newcomer to jail doesn’t always scare her straight. And, for those who want help when they get out of jail, waiting for months to start treatment is usually far too long.

Whether the solution lies in opening Oxbow to place more treatment-amenable inmates in an environment separate from the more hardcore criminals at the county jail, expanding and diversifying community treatment, or both, a growing population of addicts like Crystal are likely to need more help.

“I’ve gotten a chance to start completely over. I’m not that horrible drug-addict person anymore,” Crystal says. Then, quietly but very certain, she adds: “I’m a mom now.”

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