Did you know that illegal drug use is the number one cause of incarceration in the United States? According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 45% of all federal inmates were in prison for drug offenses in April 2019. That’s 27% more than for the second-highest reason for incarceration.
Substance use and addiction are also strongly related to homelessness. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimated in 2003 that 38% of homeless people are dependent on alcohol, while 26% are dependent on drugs other than alcohol.
The unfortunate truth is that addiction, incarceration and chronic homelessness are all interrelated. When a person is incarcerated for substance use, they may find it difficult to secure employment and housing when they are released from prison, resulting in a vicious cycle of homelessness and arrests. The Governor’s Office of Kentucky and the Kentucky Housing Corporation noticed this cycle in 2004 and set out to do something about it.
“We talked with our Department of Corrections Commissioner, who indicated concern about the number of men and women that were being incarcerated due to drug and alcohol-related crimes,” says Mike Townsend, Director of Recovery Kentucky. “Over 50% of the men and women that were incarcerated were drug and alcohol dependent, and the Commissioner knew they weren’t helping them by just incarcerating them. They needed some kind of long-term recovery program.”
That’s why the state created Recovery Kentucky, a government program that aims to break the cycle of homelessness and incarceration for substance users while also helping them transition toward sober living.
Fueling Recovery in Kentucky
Recovery Kentucky is a specialized housing program of the Kentucky Housing Corporation and is modeled after two other programs that have been successful at addressing addiction and homelessness in the state: The Healing Place in Louisville and The Hope Center in Lexington.
Today, there are 14 new Recovery Kentucky centers across the state. The program is funded entirely by existing state and federal money from the Department of Corrections, Section 8 housing vouchers, community development block grant funding, and SNAP (food stamps) reimbursements for residents’ meals.
Of the 100 beds available in each facility, 60 are reserved for individuals who are exiting prison or would have otherwise been sent to prison for nonviolent drug offenses. Recovery Kentucky provides a social model, peer-led recovery program rather than the traditional medical model treatment for addiction. It provides supportive housing for up to 24 months as well as a peer-mentored approach to education and a structured living environment that helps residents make the lifestyle changes necessary to live a life of sobriety.
“Most of the men and women that come through these programs have been in multiple programs before and have a long history of not being successful. Most of the programs they’ve attended have been either outpatient programs or 30-day residential programs. The key to the success of Recovery Kentucky’s programs is that these are longer-term. They’re typically six to nine months in length. The individuals that go through these programs have a longer period of time to change their behavior and look at new ways of living without the use of alcohol and drugs.”
"The Government Has a Duty to Address This"
Recovery Kentucky doesn’t just sound good on paper; the results have proven its effectiveness. In one follow-up study of 300 people who had completed the program, only 5% reported using illegal drugs, 5% reported using alcohol, and 13% reported being incarcerated in the previous six months. In addition, only 2% reported that they were currently homeless, down from 38% at intake into the program.
From a financial standpoint, the study concluded that for every $1 invested in recovery services, there was an estimated $2.60 return in avoided costs. This means the state of Kentucky actually made money in the long run by providing these services.
The way Townsend sees it, Recovery Kentucky is one way the government of Kentucky is fulfilling its obligations to citizens. “I look at this as a health care issue. The government needs to address this just as it would address any health issue, whether it’s hepatitis, cancer or heart disease. We’ve been addressing it primarily through our criminal justice system. I think what we’ve found is that in the long run, that’s not a good policy to have because it’s just going to cost society and taxpayers even more,” he says.
We hope that more state and local governments take cues from programs like Recovery Kentucky to reduce substance use, homelessness and incarceration in a humane, constructive way. As Mike Townsend puts it:
“The key is to build a culture of recovery.”
There is still time to sign up for the 10th Annual Ann Daugherty Symposium this Wednesday, May 22nd! We would love for you to hear from Mike Townsend and the other expert speakers who will be joining us.
For a sneak peek at what our other speakers will be presenting, take a look at the posts below!