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Delaware County jail offers mental health and substance use coaching to inmates

Inmates say the program should be available statewide
Posted at 10:31 PM, Aug 23, 2022

MUNCIE — Thousands of Hoosiers struggle every year with substance use and mental health disorders.

The Delaware County Sheriff's Office says many end up in local jails, but never receive the treatment they need.

WRTV reporter Rachael Wilkerson recently stepped inside the county jail to see how they're helping inmates tackle this problem.

"It's a huge problem," Amanda Book said.

Book is serving time at the Delaware County Jail. She's also battling substance use disorder.

Book said at times, she felt there wasn't enough help available in Muncie.

"I've relapsed a lot because of it," Book said. "Not being able to trust somebody. Not being able to connect with somebody."

She said now, things have changed.

Book along with hundreds of inmates are getting wrap-around services through the state's Integrated Reentry and Correctional Support pilot program (IRACS).

"We've talked about what's the plan when you leave, where you are going to reside at, they ask what do you want," Book said. "If you want to stay sober, want recovery they will give you all of the resources you need."

The IRACS program is a collaboration between DMHA, Indiana Forensic Services and the Indiana Recovery Network, programs of Mental Health America of Indiana.

Convicted felons, also known as peers, that have a history of mental health and substance use disorders, coach the inmates on their path to recovery in and out of jail.

"That lived experience makes the rapport easier. We can relate," coach Travis said.

Delaware County jail is one of just five in the state providing this recovery support.

Travis said out of the more than 350 inmates being housed in Delaware County, around 90% are seeking help.

"In the last 30 days, we have had people that originally said that I don't want to involve ourselves in that program and have come back." Travis said. "Early on we had five to five inmates a day. Now we are up to 15 a piece."

Travis said the program also helps him with his recovery and is fulfilling for all involved.

It's a problem that Sheriff Tony Skinner says needs to be addressed with the right resources.

"I would guess probably, three-quarters of our jail, they are here as a direct result or indirect result of alcohol or drug abuse. It really is that high," Delaware County Sheriff Tony Skinner said.

For the sheriff, having this program is a big deal.

Skinner said historically, inmates in local jails haven't received proper treatment to combat their disorders and end right back up in the system.

"Quite frankly, it's never been done in the jails before. You know 20-30-40 years ago when they started shutting down the mental health institutions around the state, the people who suffered from mental illness Still had to go somewhere. Quite frankly, they ended up in our jails. They go to the hospital for a little while but then they are released. They always end up in our jails. This is why it's so important for sheriffs who house these people and have to deal with them on a daily basis to get them treated," Skinner said.

It's a stigma, he's hoping will change.

"Having peers talk to them, finding out what they need and get them on track to treat that. The end goal is to get them to be better citizens in our community more functional and to honestly keep them out of jail," Skinner said.

The support means the world to Tristan Coates.

"It tremendously helps out and it means a lot to me too," Coates said.

He's encouraging others inside to seek help.

"Delaware County doesn't have it. I think it's a really good program that we need," Coates said.

With the help of his new peers, Coates is eager to start a new chapter of his life.

"I am going to rehab at the Mockingbird and then I am going to go to a sober living after that. They are still going to work with me after I get out of here," Coates said.

The five jails will monitor the program's progression. Statistics should be available within six to nine months.

If it is successful, the program could go statewide.