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Beth Rickers/Daily Globe Personnel involved with bringing a chemical treatment program to the Nobles County Jail, (from left) licensed alcohol and drug counselor Stacey Flitter, jail administrator Monette Berkevich, jail program coordinator Teresa VanderPlaats and Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening, are pictured at the Prairie Justice Center in Worthington.

Jail begins chemical dependency program

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WORTHINGTON -- During an informal survey of the population at the Nobles County Jail on a recent day, about 80 percent of the inmates were incarcerated for chemical-related offenses such as driving while intoxicated and drug possession.

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"But how many have chemical issues? Probably 99 percent," said Jail Administrator Monette Berkevich, explaining many other offenses can be traced back to a problem with alcohol or drugs. "If they ever cure this disease, we're out of work."

To combat the problems associated with alcohol and drug among offenders, the Nobles County Jail at the Prairie Justice Center in Worthington is implementing a chemical dependency treatment program with New Beginnings at Waverly, LLC. New Beginnings is a nationally known addiction treatment provider already operating jail programs in Sherburne and Renville counties as well as traditional residential and outpatient services.

"We knew Renville County was doing it and thought, if they can do it, so can we," said Berkevich. " ... It made sense. If you're going to put people in jail, you might as well do something with them while they are there. They're sort of a captive audience."

Berkevich contacted Renville County officials and was referred to New Beginnings.

"We thought it would take a year" to get a treatment program going, said Jail Program Coordinator Teresa VanderPlaats. But local officials and New Beginnings worked together to make it a reality in a much shorter period of time. "All around, it's been a wonderful experience to work with all the departments, how upbeat everyone has been -- not a negative response from anyone."

"We are appreciative to the judges, county attorney, probation, public defenders, who have all been supportive, who all see a need and have bought in to this, hook, line and sinker," Berkevich concurred.

The first two participants will start the program on Wednesday, according to Stacey Flitter, New Beginnings licensed drug and alcohol counselor who will work at the Prairie Justice Center in Worthington. Flitter also has a degree in corrections

The PJC jail program will have a three-tier approach and is tailored to each person's issues and designed to accommodate the length of stay. Generally, the inmates will attend treatment groups inside the jail and then follow up with outpatient treatment after release. Clients must ask for and agree to accept the services while they are in court, as part of their sentencing.

"Up in Elk River, we have a nearly 70 percent success rate, which is unheard of," said Gil Gilchrist, New Beginnings chief executive officer. "The magic of that program, the big benefit is to have somebody follow up on them when they leave treatment. Mentorship is the key to our success, we believe.

"Somebody follows up with them, makes sure they're going to the right kind of AA meetings, have quality sponsors, are taking their meds, live in a safe environment," Gilchrist continued. "These are people who don't have living skills; they have street skills. If we wanted to live on the street, this is the first person we would go to. The goal is to get them safe and sober and get them working and paying taxes and productive members of that community."

Flitter and VanderPlaats have worked together to identify potential candidates for the program among the jail's current population. The Nobles County program will be co-ed.

"Even if we start with just two to begin with, if we find a third person is eligible, they can come in anytime," VanderPlaats said, adding that inmates have already been inquiring about the treatment options.

"They realize that their time here is dead time," Berkevich said.

Getting a client into treatment while they are in jail is opportune timing, Flitter said, because while they can choose to ignore the financial and family implications of their addiction, it's tough to overlook the criminal ramifications when they are sitting in a jail cell.

Nobles County's diverse population will pose some unique challenges, but Flitter is confident that the program can be adapted to meet each client's needs.

"I speak a little Spanish, although the program certainly won't be 100 percent bilingual. I'm not going to be able to cover 75 different dialects," she said. "But it is a cross-cultural program. It's understandable in many different languages, and I'm open to exploring different religions, different cultural family situations and figuring out how they can fit in to the program. It can be individualized from concept to completion."

In Sherburne Country, the chemical dependency program has been open for almost two years and has seen a 69 percent success rate of people who have completed the nine-month program. The hope is that Nobles County can achieve similar results and build a supportive recovery environment, thereby reducing the chance of a client reoffending.

"I do think this is a movement," said Berkevich. "I've had other jails calling about it. The more places we can get it going, the better."

"We're trying to create a solution," agreed Flitter, "all working for a common good to make society better."

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Beth Rickers
Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at http://lagniappe.areavoices.com/.  
(507) 376-7327
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