Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

On any given day, 95 percent of individuals incarcerated at the Macon County Detention Center are dealing with some kind of drug or alcohol issue. On Monday morning, Macon County Detention Center was housing 66 inmates in the county, and were responsible for another 43 inmates who were being housed outside of Macon County because of overcrowding at the detention center.  Macon County can only hold 11 female inmates and on Monday, the jail had 23 on record.

In 2016, 1,015 males and 518 females were incarcerated in the Macon County facility. Macon County Sheriff’s Department spent $163,156 in 2016 for out of county housing for Macon County inmates transported to other facilities in Western North Carolina because the county detention center can’t adequately house them.

To address the root cause of overcrowding at the detention center, and to provide services to the inmates incarcerated who face drug or alcohol issues, Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland is working with Appalachian Community Services to seek a solution.

“We partnered with Howard Dowdle at Appalachian Community Services to launch a pilot program within the jail for inmates with substance or alcohol issues,” said Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland. “He taught the course within our facility and we had a really great response from the inmates who participated.”

The course taught by Dowdle is known as Prime for Life, which is evidence-based treatment. Prime For Life® is an evidence-based motivational prevention, intervention and pretreatment program specifically designed for people who might be making high-risk choices. This includes but is not limited to impaired driving offenders, college students, and young people charged with alcohol and/or drug offenses. It is designed to change drinking and drug use behaviors by changing beliefs, attitudes, risk perceptions, motivations, and the knowledge of how to reduce their risk of alcohol and drug related problems throughout their lives. Because Prime For Life® includes both prevention and intervention content, it is also designed in a way that serves universal, selective, and indicated audiences with program delivery options for each.

Dowdle noted he has had success in teaching the program to various audiences and believes a program with the jail system would be beneficial to the community.

“We want to make sure that help is available to individuals who really need it and may not otherwise have access,” said Dowdle. “The process has worked really well in the jail setting and the inmates who volunteered for the pilot program were really respective of the treatment. We want to decrease the number of people incarcerated, while addressing the drug epidemic in our community.”

According to Holland, the inmates volunteered for the program understanding that he/she would receive nothing in return for taking the class except support and assistance in their road to sobriety and making better decisions in their lives.

“Fact of the matter is that I believe those who need help for their addiction have to want help in order for it to work,” said Holland. “If someone in our custody asks for that help, then because of this program we will have a resource and we are more than willing to help and support their efforts.”

Inmates participated in the program for one hour a day for a week. After inmates who participated in the program are released from jail, Appalachian Community Services has continuing service plans to help aid them on the road to recovery.

“This new program will allow inmates who wish to receive help get it immediately,” said Holland. “Not only will it help those suffering from addiction but others who simply have a problem with making poor decisions which ultimately landed them in jail.  This new program will not only address addiction issues for inmates but also assist those and other inmates in finding ways to work on better decision making skills, help them individually identify triggers of bad behaviors and individually help navigate the thought process on how to get back on track and deal with situations more appropriately.  If successful their chance of returning drops significantly.”

According to Dowdle the next step for the program is to secure funding to continue it. While the program is a small step in addressing the drug epidemic in the community, Dowdle said long term plans would include securing transitional housing for those in need as well as additional treatment facilities in the community.