Predictions for NHC jail diversion program may be too rosy

Predictions for NHC jail diversion program may be too rosy
(Source: Raycom Media)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - A treatment facility that's being pitched as a way to keep inmates out of jail and save New Hanover County money may not be as effective as advertised.

Trillium Health Resources is a publicly funded agency that provides mental health and substance abuse services across Eastern North Carolina. They have plans to build a recovery and rehab facility in New Hanover County for people with alcohol and drug dependency, and they want the county to help pay for it.

The Healing Transitions Program is being touted as a jail diversion program that would free up beds at the New Hanover County jail, and delay the need for the jail's expansion. Trillium is offering to fund construction of the 200+ bed facility if the county agrees to commit to paying for 25 beds a year at $35 day, for a total annual cost of $319,375.

Considering that it costs the county $80 a day to house an inmate at the county jail, this could save the county hundreds of thousands of dollars by putting people with substance abuse problems in the treatment facility rather than the jail.

Assistant County Manager Beth Schrader first told us about the program in the fall.

"When we looked at our (jail) population, we found out that right off the bat, 11 percent of our inmates who walk through the door could potentially be eligible for some kind of treatment program," Schrader stated.  "We currently have 569 inmates in our jail on any given night, based on the preliminary analysis it looks like there are potentially 45 to 50 inmate beds that could be freed up."

There are, however, concerns at the New Hanover County Jail that this would not free up as many beds as Trillium is predicting.

Inmates with substance abuse problems and mental health issues would qualify for a bed in the Healing Transitions Treatment Facility, but there are other factors that would disqualify them. They must be a non-violent offender, cannot be affiliated with a gang, and cannot be in jail for meth or sex crimes.

The Sheriff supports the Trillium program as a way to treat addiction in our community. The sheriff's office thinks it could be an effective diversionary program to some degree, and even push the need for expansion back by several years. But the sheriff's office feel jail expansion is inevitable at some point.

Trillium's estimates of the number of inmates their program would divert from the jail rely on assumptions that 65% of New Hanover County jail inmates have a substance abuse disorder, and that 37% of those inmates could qualify for a diversion program.

But jail insiders say when you look at the actual inmate population, those percentages don't necessarily pan out. They would feel more comfortable waiting to see actual reductions in jail populations after the Healing Transitions facility is up and running to make decisions.

According to a spokesperson for Trillium, the Healing Transitions facility would be open to anyone in need of treatment for substance abuse, not just inmates. They say over 70% of graduates from other Healing Transitions facilities have been in recovery, gainfully employed, and in stable housing a full year after leaving the facility.

New Hanover County Commissioners will consider the proposal from Trillium at their meeting next Tuesday.

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