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One year after launch, corrections leader looks for ways to expand jail-based therapy program

A one-way sign points toward a building in the background
David Dudley
/
Wyoming Public Media
A one-way sign points toward the Laramie County Jail, where last summer the Sheriff's Office implemented a medication-assisted therapy program for inmates. Cheyenne, Wyoming, June 4, 2024.

The Laramie County Jail launched a medication-assisted therapy (MAT) program last summer. MAT therapy combines medication with counseling to help people treat substance abuse disorder.

But one year in, it's still hard to access treatment in county jails across the Cowboy State.

A study by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that 63 percent of incarcerated inmates suffer from substance abuse disorder. Yet only five percent of them have access to MAT, which is associated with reduced recidivism and overdoses.

Providing the treatment in county jails is difficult due to continuity challenges, like length of stay and whether an inmate will be released or sent to prison. Because of that, few of Wyoming's county jails are equipped to offer the treatment.

Perry Rockvam, Laramie County Sheriff's Office's chief deputy of corrections, says that increasing access to treatment options is good for inmates, jail staff and the broader community.

"It's a real challenge," Rockvam said. "We're a jail. And, because of limited community resources, we are now the de facto detoxification facility in our community, not just for addiction but also mental health. This program increases safety for all concerned."

Rockvam said that two of 192 inmates are currently being treated in the MAT program in the Laramie County Jail in Cheyenne. The number is limited, as the program is only offered to those who have established treatment before entering the jail.

"If they were on a MAT program before they entered the facility, we would help them to continue that program," he said. "They have to prove to us that they've been on the program and have been taking the medication. We do that through a urine test to make sure that they are using the medicine and then we get them connected."

When inmates are released, they usually return to the provider that treated them prior to incarceration. Rockvam said that he'd like to see more inmates get treatment, but that would require more funding to implement an induction program. Induction programs allow people struggling with addiction to begin MAT therapy upon being remanded to custody.

Andi Summerville, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centers, said the program could make all the difference for those struggling to put addiction behind them.

"MAT therapy is something that's really come along in the last 10 or 20 years," said Summerville. "It's a critical component for a lot of folks who are working their way through recovery."

While the Wyoming Department of Corrections offers MAT therapy on a case-by-case basis at its five prisons across the state, Summerville says only one or two county jails offer the treatment.

"It's just not something that we have nearly enough of," Summerville said. "We don't have a lot of centers and providers that have gone through the training and are available to provide those services."

While available resources pose one challenge to implementing more MAT programs across the state, there's another barrier that needs to be addressed first.

"There's still some stigma around it," Summerville said. "Some of us still struggle to accept that it's a part of recovery and healing. It's not a replacement. It doesn't continue the addiction. It really helps people work through their recovery."

For many, the road to recovery may begin behind bars.

"Unfortunately, a lot of times people that are struggling with substance use disorder, their cry for help may come through contact with law enforcement," Summerville added. "So to have the ability to start services, to start on the road of recovery while they are going through the criminal justice process, can be life-changing for those folks."

This reporting was made possible by a grant from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, supporting state government coverage in the state. Wyoming Public Media and Jackson Hole Community Radio are partnering to cover state issues both on air and online.

David Dudley is an award-winning journalist who has written for The Guardian, The Christian Science Monitor, High Country News, WyoFile, and the Wyoming Truth, among many others. David was a Guggenheim Crime in America Fellow at John Jay College from 2020-2023. During the past 10 years, David has covered city and state government, business, economics and public safety beats for various publications. He lives in Cheyenne with his family.

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