By Mark Powell
An Alternative to Doing Time
In 2013, West Virginia was facing a serious problem. Incarceration costs were sky high and incarceration rates continued to rise. With no end in sight, the projected increase in prison populations meant a new prison was needed. The state recognized the increased rates of incarceration were not related to new offenses, but rather violations of community supervision, primarily due to substance use related issues. Rather than build a new prison, officials decided to implement Justice Reinvestment. The idea was the savings from reducing the cost incarceration would be reinvested in evidence-based treatment provided in community-based programs.
West Virginia native Ronda Eddy took Justice Reinvestment and ran with it. Fresh off of a 20-plus year career with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, she was ready to jump in and help her home state. “I was retired and looking for something to keep me out of trouble,” says Ronda with a smile. “During my federal career, I had visited over 100 federal prisons, jails, and detention centers, at least once. I talked to a lot of inmates and heard their stories of sadness and hopelessness about how their incarceration for nonviolent offenses impacted their families. It never made sense to me separate non-violent offenders with substance use treatment needs from their families and communities when they could receive community-based treatment under supervision.”
So, Ronda helped establish the Jefferson Day Report Center, Inc. (JDRC) under the
guidance and support of the Jefferson County Criminal Justice Board. Opened in 2014, it is a community corrections program that provides treatment supervision to non-violent, justice involved individuals, whose crimes, for the most part, are rooted in substance use. The JDRC caseload are individuals referred from parole, Circuit Court, and Magistrate Court for treatment supervision. They work with a team of highly qualified medical and behavioral health professionals who address their individual treatment needs and provide wrap-around services to support re-entry and recovery.
Monitoring and accountability is a big part of how JDRC operates. However, testing positive for substances does not mean a trip back to jail; it’s considered an opportunity to reassess treatment needs and adjust accordingly. Understanding the importance of language, there is no such thing as an “addict,” but rather a person who is in need of treatment and recovery support. The JDRC staff hold each other accountable for modeling pro-social behavior to the program participants. Staff are mindful to avoid using negative language, like “failing a drug test, or testing dirty” rather than testing positive, or non-positive on drug screens. Staff who “slip up” and use negative terms have to “pay the pig” by putting money in a piggy bank that is used to fund incentives for the program participants.
For Ronda, the Jefferson Day Report Center is about more than community corrections. It’s truly about helping rebuild lives that have been shaken by the heroin epidemic. The JDRC provides gift cards from the local Dairy Queen for a $5 meal. JDRC staff will often take participants to get a milkshake, simply because they need one. When one participant was having trouble finding a job in the food service field because of her lack of dental care, Ronda and the team assisted her in getting dentures, not only improving the participant’s job prospects but also her self-esteem.
JDRC offers telehealth services to participants at other Day Report Centers located in rural areas to provide access to medication-assisted treatment. They also partnered with a local employer to provide jobs to participants. That partnership has been so successful, the employer now looks to JDRC when they have a position to fill.
Under Ronda Eddy’s vision and leadership, the Jefferson Day Report Center keeps finding ways to provide support to a community in recovery. When speaking of JDRC’s expansion in such a short timeframe, Ronda says, “I was born and raised in West Virginia, and this is my home. We are proud Mountaineers that join forces to face any challenge. We live by our state motto that, “Mountaineers are always free.” I believe we are beginning to see changes that will set us free from this terrible heroin and drug abuse epidemic that has devastated our state.”
Jefferson Day Report Center was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.