DOC, Salvation Army unveil new $2.2M plan to help end substance abuse

Published: Dec. 7, 2017 at 8:02 PM AKST
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At Hiland Mountain Correctional Center, you'll find everything from plant sales in the summer to Iditarod dog drops in the winter.

However, something else makes an appearance year-round: Substance abuse, inside and outside of the facilities guarded walls.

"I think everybody knows," said Laura Brooks, Dept. of Corrections Dir. of Health and Rehabilitation, "we have some pretty staggering statistics when it comes to substance abuse in Alaska."

A direct correlation exists, she said, between substance abuse and criminal activity, accidental death, suicide and domestic violence.

"We see the results right here," Brooks said, "walking through our doors and living behind our walls, every day."

Substance abuse and mental health problems have long been severely affecting people across Alaska, and many of those caught in their grasp are behind prison walls. That's exactly why The Dept. of Corrections and Salvation Army, both with large roles in the addiction recovery process, have joined forces in a new, $2.2-million-per-year deal.

New substance abuse programs will be implemented at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center and Goose Creek Correctional Centers.

"It is from within these walls that we stand today," said Maj. Mike Dickinson, Divisional Commander for the Salvation Army, "that we are able to help and work with those affected by substance abuse in a meaningful and a compassionate way."

Despite programs already in place, Brooks said, approximately 80 percent of the inmate population have substance abuse disorders.

"They're coming to us with really, really complex medical, social and mental health issues further complicated by their substance use," she said. "And the substances they're using are actually more complex and dangerous than ever before."

Thus, places like Hiland are where the Salvation Army is swooping in.

"Our offenders within the Dept. of Corrections are naturally releasing and seeking the Salvation Army as their aftercare provider already," said Autumn Vea, Criminal Justice Planner for Substance Abuse.

Following a new contract that kicked in in November, Hiland and Goose Creek Correctional Centers will both have additional substance abuse program availability.

"The Salvation Army is excited and honored to partner with the Alaska Dept .of Corrections to provide substance abuse treatment," Dickinson said.

The $2.2 million annual deal will allow for designated treatment spaces, more and fully trained staffers, and new equipment to help get up to 1,500 more inmates each year back on the right track.

"Not only are they getting new tools, great tools in their tool belts to be successful as they re-enter society," Dickinson said, "but to know that there are people that care about them."

Since the program is brand new within the Alaska prison system, there are no statistics on recidivism rates just yet. However, if successful, the project may even be duplicated in other parts of Alaska.

Andy Jones, Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services Deputy Incident Commander of Alaska's Opioid Response Team, said" this is going to be an essential and really critical capability as we look to building a model for Alaska, that potentially could be use in other facilities across the state."

Video by Channel 2 photojournalist Mike Nederbrock.