Addiction and substance abuse, fueled largely by the opioid crisis, are rampant in the nation’s prisons and jails. The Worcester County House of Correction is among the Massachusetts facilities that have embarked on varying approaches to help inmates battle the problem. A six-month initiative, to which inmates must apply for admission, offers classes that range from domestic violence awareness, anger management, victim impact, recovery management, and balancing life in sobriety. The three dozen participants in the STOP program also tend an indoor terraponic farm, with a harvest time of every 18 days. Prison officials point to its therapeutic benefits.
In addition to classes, the program offers individual counselors and reentry staff who help inmates establish recovery action plans before they leave.
Chandler Lackey, a 22-year-old inmate who has been incarcerated multiple times, said he was drawn to the initiative.
“As soon as the orientation woman presented me with an application, it was immediately put into my brain that I had a way out of this, I had a way to stop coming back to this jail,” said Lackey, who is entering his third month of the program.
In 2017, prisoners who successfully completed the program had a recidivism rate of 30 percent, which is significantly lower than the rate for the overall inmate population.
Worcester County, however, is not yet among the seven Massachusetts counties that provide inmates with two key medications — buprenorphine and methadone — that have been shown effective in treating opioid addiction and preventing overdoses. Inmates can participate in other programs. Through partnership with a local shelter, the facility offers a Shelter Pets and Prisons program, which allows inmates to become dog trainers and handlers for shelter dogs that have been considered “unadoptable.” Inmates can build an empathetic and compassionate relationship with shelter dogs as they work on recovery skills to help transition back into society.
The jail’s agriculture program allows inmates to tend to a 15-acre on-site organic farm where over 700 pounds of fresh produce are harvested every day. The food feeds the inmate population and is donated to local food pantries and community centers. In partnership with Anna Maria College, weekly guitar lessons are offered to a dozen or so inmates, which culminates in a concert performance in December. “Our goal is to have every inmate leave here with some type of plan,” said Lesa Vaudreuil, director of substance abuse treatment at Worcester House of Correction. “Here. . . they find their hope, and that’s key.”