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Jessica Hayes admits she has made mistakes.
The Springfield, Ohio, native started using cocaine when she was 14 years old. She later moved to Kentucky, and she traded her cocaine addiction for a pill addiction.
That eventually led to a conviction for second-degree robbery and second-degree burglary, but that is only part of the reason she is at the Marion County Detention Center.
Hayes, now 25, transferred to MCDC in December so she could participate in Women Living in Balance (WLIB), a 90-day substance abuse program.
“I just wanted a new way of life,” she said. “I waited for this program for 18 months.”
After completing the program, Hayes decided to remain in it for the remainder of her sentence. She is now serving as a peer mentor to others in the program.
“I’m still continuing to work on myself, but I have the opportunity to help others,” Hayes said.
As much as she appreciates what she’s learned from the program, she also appreciates her new environment. Hayes said in other county jails, many inmates are doing time but nothing to improve themselves.
At MCDC, Hayes is surrounded by other women in the WLIB program, and that makes for a supportive environment. But she also appreciates the support that comes from the jail’s staff.
“We are people,” Hayes said. “We’ve just made mistakes.”
The WLIB is one of three substance abuse programs now active at the Marion County Detention Center. Living in Balance is a men’s 90-day program and ALPHA (Addicts Learning Productive Healthy Alternatives) is a six-month program for men.
The increased substance abuse treatment is only part of the new push toward expanded programming at the Marion County Detention Center. The jail is also running programs to teach inmates to examine how they make decisions, to prepare them to be better citizens and fathers when they get out of jail, and to complete their general education diploma.
In January of 2012, MCDC had 40 beds set aside for program residents. Today, the jail has designated 208 beds (out of 297 total) for program residents, according to Marion County Jailer Barry Brady.
“We’re leading the pack when it comes to Kentucky jails being innovative,” Brady said.
When House Bill 463 became law, many inmates began being released early, which saved the state money because it wasn’t paying to house as many criminals. On the flip side, this hurt county jails that counted on state revenue to fund their operations.
Marion County’s jail had been self-sufficient for seven years, but as a result of a lower jail population, the fiscal court had to transfer $140,000 from the general fund to cover jail costs during the 2011-12 fiscal year.
In 2012-13, the county’s contribution to the jail funding decreased to $80,000. For some perspective, the Marion County jail budget is more than $4 million, annually.
Many counties spend hundreds of thousands of local tax dollars on their jails, but Brady is hoping MCDC will return to being self-sufficient during the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Doing that requires keeping the beds full. The county receives $31.34 per day for each state prisoner it houses. That goes up to $40.34 for inmates in substance abuse programs.
Because prisoners can receive credit for time served by completing those programs, many have sought to get in them. For many, that means a transfer to MCDC.
Those shorter sentences also saves the state money, which the state is using as an incentive to encourage more jails to implement more programs. Under HB 463, facilities that help save the state money (through the reduced sentences) are eligible to be paid 25 percent of those savings. Knowing that, Brady applied for a $215,000 grant to implement new programs, locally. After testifying before Kentucky House and Senate committees, the jail was awarded $64,000. It wasn’t the full amount, but it was enough to get started.
With the programs in place and the prisoners who have completed them, Brady estimates MCDC has already saved the state around $700,000. His goal is to push those savings to $1 million, which would mean the county jail would receive $250,000, which is more than his original grant request.
“It’s mind-puzzling that this language was in [HB 463], and no other counties have applied for it,” Brady said.
He added that the county might not see any payment for the savings until September of 2014. Nevertheless, he sees the programs as an important step for the inmates and for society at large.
“This is the right way to do correctional housing,” Brady said.
He said if all inmates do is time, then they aren’t preparing themselves to be better parents, neighbors and citizens when they get out. Through the programs, prisoners are learning new ways of behaving when they return home.
Brandon Wilson, the substance abuse program director at MCDC, said he likes the community-feel of the therapeutic programs at the jail.
“They get to key in on the issues that have led them to their substance abuse,” Wilson said. “
He noted that the other programs offered at the jail are a good compliment to the substance abuse programs. They are all intended to help the prisoners become better parents, neighbors and citizens when they are released.
Wilson said that prisoners in his programs started using drugs on average when they were 10 years old. That’s part of the reason he asked some of his program participants (including Hayes) to speak at a recent meeting of the Heartland Community Coalition.
“There is a need in our communities to address these issues not only with our youth, but also with our offenders,” Wilson said. “They have to have an opportunity to be rehabilitated.”
Jennifer Ponce agreed. She has been working part-time at MCDC, but she will become the programming coordinator next month. She said if the inmates don’t learn a different way of doing things while they are incarcerated, then many will go back to doing what they did before they were arrested.
The programs offer that chance to learn a different way.
“They want to succeed on their own,” Ponce said.
Austin Boyd, 31, of Lexington and Shawn Martin, 37, from Indiana are two inmates seeking to make changes in their lives. They are going through the Moral Recognition Therapy (MRT) program at MCDC.
Like Hayes, they both said their addictions are what led to the criminal behavior that landed them in jail.
Martin has been at MCDC for about six months, and he said he’s noticed a difference from other correctional facilities.
“Here, you get a lot more help,” he said.
Through MRT, Martin said he’s learned to be more humble and to deal with resentments that he’s carried around for years.
“The way I process things now, it’s totally different than it was before,” he said.
For Martin, that includes recognizing that what he does affects his fiancé and five children.
“It helps you recognize the impact you are having on other people,” he said.
Boyd also thinks about his family as he’s going through the MRT program. He acknowledges that his past behavior has not been in the best interest of his wife and their three kids.
“It’s about taking responsibility for your actions,” he said.
Boyd added that being around other people who are trying to do better is another benefit of being at MCDC. He said it seems like everyone at the jail is in some program, and that helps whenever someone is having a bad day.
“As far as getting yourself together mentally,” he said, “this is the place to be.”