Frank Brewer had 10 years and nine months over his head.
Brewer had a long history of using drugs and living life in the fast lane. At age 8 he started to drink alcohol, by age 10 he was smoking marijuana and at age 11, he was sniffing cocaine. He spent most of his life in and out of jail, he says, and eventually ran out of money to pay for lawyers to get him out of trouble. When his options were jail time or drug court, he chose drug court, he says.
“I did a lot of nasty things when I was using and recovery taught me how to forgive myself,” Brewer said. “I can do that and openly talk about my life in the act of addiction and my life in recovery.”
Brewer has been clean for almost four years and is now the senior peer leader at the Caroline County Recovery Center. The center – a partnership between Caroline County’s Commonwealth Attorney Tony Spencer and The McShin Foundation in Richmond – was established in February. It uses McShin’s model of peer recovery, where drug addicts help each other using 12-step based recovery.
The Caroline County Recovery Center is an alternative to jail for people who committed a crime because they were addicted to alcohol or drugs, Spencer says.
“What we want to try and do is attack the problem itself,” Spencer says. “This person is committing these crimes because they have a substance abuse problem. Let’s try to get them into recovery.”
Spencer says if the person is willing to admit guilt to the crime and can stay clean for 12 months; their charge can be dismissed or reduced. If they relapse once, they go to jail for one week. Every relapse after that gets the person more time in jail than the previous time, Spencer says. When people relapse from the program they can only graduate if they have a year clean after their last relapse date. The only people not eligible for the program are sex offenders and people charged with violent felonies, Spencer says.
“If this works it is going to be one of the best things that happened in criminal justice in a long time,” Spencer said.
Since it’s keeping people out of jails, Spencer says, it’s going to save the county money. The Caroline County Recovery Center is tied with The McShin Foundation which is a non-profit so that wouldn’t cost the county money either, Spencer says.
McShin president and founder John Shinholser said he is hoping once the county sees how much money they’re saving, they’ll want to put some of that money back into the Caroline County Recovery Center.
“Recovery is best delivered by recovery people not bureaucracies,” Shinholser said. “Bureaucracies have all the money, all the control and all the power. They’re not going to give any of that to recovery people to do what they do best.”
Spencer says they initially received concerns from members of the community who thought someone from The Hanover Community Corrections office should be involved in administering drug test to the recovery center’s clients. Brewer is in charge of administering drug tests to the Caroline County Community Center’s clients and now someone from the community corrections office is also drug testing clients once a month to address that concern.
Caroline County Sheriff Tony Lippa said that if the program is successful, it has the potential to save the county money. He also said, however, that it has the potential to cost the county more money. Lippa said he’s in favor of a recovery program for addicts who seek help but not for those that would use it to circumvent the judicial system.
“This program could cost the County more money, manpower, and risks of public safety when those that do not respond to the program or treatment would then have a court order issued on them for non-compliance or show cause for arrest,” Lippa said. “The Sheriff’s office would have to spend limited resources in locating and arresting them. The offenders could also be a risk to public safety until they are apprehended.”
However, Spencer said that most people eligible for the program would be out on bond anyway. It wouldn’t cost the Sherriff’s office more money than apprehending any other fugitive out on bond, Spencer said. Spencer also dismissed the idea that people would use the program as a way to get around the legal system.
“It is such a rigorous program; it’s hard to believe that anybody would go through that just to beat a charge,” Spencer said.
Spencer said the program is similar to drug court, but tackles the issue before all the court proceedings. The goal was also to allow clients to have a job, Spencer said, which is hard to keep when you have to go through drug court. Brewer said drug court has strict meeting times which make it hard to find or keep a job and participants have to be able to randomly show up to the office if called upon for a drug test. At the Caroline County Recovery Center, Brewer said, the tests are administered when you show up for a meeting which happen a couple times throughout the day to accommodate people’s night and day work-shifts.
“It made it difficult finding a job when you had other requirements,” Brewer said about his time in drug court. “We didn’t want to be like that, we wanted people to be able to go to meetings, get a sponsor, work steps and do what you’re supposed to be doing.”‘
Todd Fortune, 23, was charged with a Driving Under the Influence five months ago. Instead of spending 90-days in jail he chose to go through the Caroline County Recovery Center. Although Fortune says he doesn’t have a drinking problem, he says he has still benefited from the program. Fortune says he’s been drug free for six months. He’s done with the program March 25 and says he may still come after that.
“You can actually have fun and not have to watch over your back for the police,” Fortune said about being drug free. “I feel a lot better about myself.”
An analysis of 2009-data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows that most people who enter drug and alcohol treatment services are referred by the criminal justice system or because they got a DUI. A 2009 report by SAMHSA also shows that patients referred to an outpatient treatment by the criminal justice system or an employer were more likely to complete the substance abuse program.
Susan Cruzan, public affairs specialist for SAMHSA, said they implement peer-recovery services into their grant programs, if they meet certain criteria.
“From information I’ve seen, it’s considered to be effective,” Cruzan said about peer recovery methods.