Metro Corrections Director Mark Bolton, Seven Counties CEO Tony Zipple and Mayor Greg Fischer (left to right) announced the new Second Chance program at a press conference Tuesday | Photo by Joe Sonka
Metro Corrections Director Mark Bolton, Seven Counties CEO Tony Zipple and Mayor Greg Fischer (left to right) announced the new Second Chance program at a press conference Tuesday | Photo by Joe Sonka

Louisville Metro Corrections and Seven Counties Services are teaming up on a new program to reduce recidivism among inmates with both mental illness and substance abuse disorders. The program aims to identify those individuals in the local jail and connect them with treatment services and housing options upon release.

The Second Chance program was made possible by a $600,000 federal grant received by Seven Counties, and over the next two years will serve approximately 80 Metro Corrections inmates who have such co-occurring disorders. The new Seven Counties team of case managers, peer support specialists, a court liaison and therapist will work with the courts and jail to identify those in need of services while they are still incarcerated, then upon release give them a “warm hand off” to services and comprehensive monitoring over the next year to reduce their chances of recidivism.

At a press conference Tuesday morning in Seven Counties’ downtown facility on Magazine Street, Mayor Greg Fischer hailed the Second Chance program as “a new tool in our toolbox to fight crime and addiction, and help more of our citizens stay off of drugs and out of jail.”

Seven Counties CEO Tony Zipple said this is the nonprofit’s largest facility, offering a wide variety of behavioral health and drug addiction treatment services; located only a few blocks from the jail, it will be the point of entry for those in the program. He said the inmates selected would be given “a chance to break the cycle of being on the street, being in the emergency room or hospital, being in jail, and starting it all over again.”

Mental health and substance abuse assessments will be used to identify eligible inmates. Those selected for the program will receive short-term case management while incarcerated, and upon release, they can be provided with individual and group therapy, housing assistance, treatment for drug addiction, vocational rehabilitation, education services, peer support and ongoing case management.

“We’re going to meet them literally at the jail door to make sure that as they walk out, they’ve got a friendly face that they know to come to, they have people to help them with the type of things that you and I take for granted, but that make life for us manageable: a decent, safe and affordable place to put our heads at night, opportunities for a job, friends and family,” said Zipple.

Research shows similar programs around the country with such integrated services are extremely effective at reducing recidivism, Zipple added.

Metro Corrections Director Mark Bolton noted that the local jail has effectively become both the largest detox and mental health facility in the region: Of the 32,000 inmates booked last year, nearly a quarter had to detox and up to half had a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illness. With the range of services provided by the Second Chance program, he hopes some of the “familiar faces” they see cycling through the jail’s “revolving door” will get the help they need, “and thereby lessen the burden on taxpayers and on Metro Corrections staff who have been charged with the difficult management of these offenders, the challenging behaviors they often exhibit.”

Overcrowding has become a major problem at the jail this year, partly due to the increased presence of inmates dealing with an opioid addiction — a population that is much more expensive to house. While the bed cost for an average inmate is $75 a day, those with a mental illness or going through detox are placed on the medical floor, where beds cost an average of $236 per day.

While the scope of the problem of inmates with co-occurring disorders is much larger than the number who will be served by Second Chance, Bolton added that “those 80 will have a big impact,” from reducing costs to freeing up resources and improving the safety of staff and other inmates.

Zipple added that the inmates targeted for services by Second Chance are the same people who also cycle repeatedly through emergency rooms and require very expensive care, in addition to crowded homeless shelters that are near capacity.

“There’s all kinds of collateral advantage to this in the community, and all of this saves money, all of this helps to get people’s lives back together, all of this makes this community a better place,” said Zipple.

Certain crimes will make inmates ineligible to participate in the program, including violent felonies, crimes committed with a firearm and domestic violence.

Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]