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Going Behind Bars to Promote Recovery and Crisis Intervention

Ron Clark, Member Engagement Specialist — December 4, 2019 — 4 min read
Many people in prison have experienced the harmful effects of drug or alcohol use. Some of them may live with a mental health condition or an intellectual disability.
Like any one of us, they need treatment to get better. They deserve it.
Helping folks while they’re imprisoned is really important to their success when they return to their communities. As someone who is in recovery for addiction and has spent time in prison, I personally know the value of wanting to change, finding the tools to help make that happen, and making small choices every day to stay well.

Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) programs

Part of what keeps me going is my work with inmates as part of the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) programs we teach. With WRAP, we help individuals – men, women, and youths – identify tools in their life to help them take care of themselves in a different way than they have in the past.
Through WRAP training and peer support efforts, we show people a range of guidance:
  • How to spot early warning signs that something might be wrong
  • Ways to manage their mental health and wellness – like exercising, making sure they’re taking their medications properly, or keeping a journal
  • Ways to get things on track before they end up in crisis or danger
We teach coping skills to help individuals re-enter their communities – so they don’t return to the situations that led them to prison. We role-play different situations so participants can practice their new skills, like how to respond to people who don’t want them to change, or how to present themselves well in a job interview.
We share stories from people who have had problems and are now thriving – showing them how recovery is possible. We listen to their concerns and try to find ways to address them. In other words, we try to build their confidence in their recovery and everyday coping skills.
If you think about it another way, it costs about $30,000 a year to house someone in prison. But what if we’re able to help that person get the services they need, and they can turn things around? What if they can become a contributing, valuable member of society – holding down a job, giving back to their community, and supporting themselves and their loved ones? That’s priceless.
Of course, it’s not about the cost. But it is about the value that comes from helping someone know the path to becoming their best self. And seeing that happen makes me very happy.

Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for First Responders

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare also sponsors what is called Crisis Intervention Team training, or CIT. CIT classes are offered to first responders in our communities – patrol officers, fire departments, and emergency dispatchers, for example.
In CIT class, we teach first responders how to know when a person they come across may be in crisis and how to help them, so they don’t just end up in jail when what they really need is treatment for drug use. We also teach them to how to engage with behavioral health services that can help an individual instead of dropping them off at the emergency room.
We also talk about and role play ways to peacefully calm down a situation and get individuals into treatment, instead of a violent arrest or putting them in jail. The goal is to help reduce harm and keep individuals living with mental health or substance use disorders out of the prison system. 
We also work with the first responders to provide helpful ways to talk about mental health, so together we can reduce the stigma around it. It’s all about treating each person as a worthy individual.
And if we can help even one officer gain the skills to help a single person who needs kindness and help, we’ve done our job. We’re proud that we’ve taught CIT to more than 4,000 first responders in North Carolina, so it’s safe to say that together, we’re doing more than that.

It’s about connecting

The big thing about classes like this: we want to make sure people are seen and heard and can ask for the help they need. That’s the first step in helping them move forward with their lives.
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