By Mark Powell
Transitioning to a Substance Free Life
It was just sitting there, a big vacant structure across the street from the Clackamas County Jail. For many years it had housed a local sheriff’s office precinct. Then on a cold day in February 2016, it began a new mission as the home of the Clackamas County Transition Center.
“Back in 2014, Oregon wanted to fund community-based corrections programs so the state wouldn’t have to build or open a new prison,” explains Eric Anderson, the Center’s supervisor. “So, the Justice Reinvestment Initiative was launched through the Department of Corrections with the goal of lowering the prison population.”
The Center works with the Clackamas County corrections community and local organizations to serve the needs of those who are just released from jail. Its goal is to lower recidivism and stop the revolving door for low-level offenders. Its employment specialists help them become job ready by preparing applications and resumes, and in identifying second chance employers.
Two certified drug and alcohol counselors provide assessments to inmates while they’re still in jail. That helps them transition to a treatment plan when they come out. “Before, we were working behind the curve and looking for treatment options once they got out. Now a plan is in place when they do,” Anderson says.
Probation officers help inmates with the transition. Peer support mentors from a group called Bridges to Change (who have front line experience themselves, having been in custody or having battled addiction issues) also aid with recovery support and transition because, as Anderson points out, “They know where to go and what to do next.”
Naloxone is available for those who want it. The Center partners with the county health department and has given out hundreds of doses.
“Release from jail is a very vulnerable, very dangerous time for many people,” Anderson says. “They may be taken directly to treatment, or supportive housing. The goal is to meet people where they are and get them into the next step in their recovery.”
Sometimes, that next step involves the use of medication-assisted treatment while still in jail or maintenance in the community.
From January to mid-June 2019, 1,865 people have been served. Of them, 231 were referred to drug and alcohol treatment. Naloxone was distributed to 79. And 120 were hired through the Center’s employment program.
After being released from jail, it’s just 150 feet from one life to another. The short walk across the parking lot to the Transition Center is a big step for people seeking to regain control of their lives. They enter a building that was once empty and abandoned but has now found a new purpose. It’s a place where more and more people are finding new purpose in their lives, too.
Clackamas County Transition 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.