Reentrance into society after exiting the criminal justice system can be a tumultuous task for an individual. It’s a process that could take years. According to the Harvard Political Review, 76.6% of United States prisoners are rearrested within five years of their release.
For Northern Kentucky residents who experience incarceration, the Kenton County Detention Center and the Covington-based Life Learning Center partner together to provide resources to reduce recidivism among the formerly incarcerated. PBS NewsHour recently ran a story on both organizations as part of their Searching for Justice Series which focused on their collaborative efforts to combat Substance Use Disorder.
“It’s estimated that up to 65% of the U.S. prison population has some sort of active substance use disorder. And when these inmates are released, studies have shown that many will return to using and be arrested again within a few years,” said PBS anchor Amna Nawaz.
Formerly incarcerated individuals require a plan that can provide them with housing and employment. Without the proper re-entry programs, the cycle of recidivism can continue. In Kenton County, the partnership between the detention center and the Life Learning Center begins in jail.
70% of inmates incarcerated at the Kenton County Detention Center were arrested for drug charges directly related to their Substance Use Disorder. Inmates within the detention center can apply to participate in the jail’s Substance Abuse Program and Comprehensive Opioid Response Program.
“If this is a war on drugs, we definitely are losing that battle. Our philosophies of all those ways about how we can incarcerate our way out of this and we’re going to arrest everybody just plain doesn’t work,” said Kenton County Jailer Marc Fields. “You cannot take somebody and put them back in the same situation that they came from and expect them to succeed.”
In order to qualify for the program, individuals must be diagnosed with Substance Use Disorder, cannot be violent offenders and cannot be on the sex offender registry. Upon admittance to the program, members have access to resources such as counseling services, recovery support and medically assisted treatment. There are separate programs for men and women.
One of the inmates PBS profiled was Jeff Schultz, a 55-year old man who was in the midst of a personal battle against opioid addiction. Schultz told PBS reporter Stephanie Sy he began using drugs at 7 years old. Five years ago, he began using heroin which eventually led him down the path to using fentanyl.
Schultz was booked for 90 days in the Kenton County Detention Center after violating his parole from a previous drug charge. He enrolled in the in-jail treatment program which he completed. He arrived at the Life Learning Center in October 2022 upon his release. He credited the nonprofit with helping him rebuild his life.
“Coming from the background I come from, when people reach out to you like that, it’s greatly appreciated,” Schultz said.
Once individuals successfully complete JSAP at the detention center, they are then encouraged, and sometimes court-ordered, to continue their recovery at the Life Learning Center. The nonprofit provides participants with care and education that aims to foster long term employment and recovery.
Life Learning Center’s Foundations for a Better Life, a 12-week program, focuses on the five domains of life: physical, financial, spiritual, emotional and relational. 95% of Life Learning Center candidates in 2021 had a criminal background; 97% had a history of Substance Use Disorder. In order to be recognized as a graduate of the program, candidates must complete the 12-week education program, maintain drug-free status and then obtain employment. Nearly 3,000 people have successfully completed the program since 2006.
In 2021, over 155 Life Learning Center candidates were employed or enrolled into post-secondary education. Over 800 individuals and family members from Northern Kentucky have been served. In 2020, the recidivism rate of Life Learning Center graduates was reduced to 38%, while graduates also enrolled in JSAP through the Kenton County Detention Center experienced a recidivism rate of 28%.