RICHMOND, Va. - Participants in a faith-based program for Richmond City Jail inmates with substance abuse problems had an 18 percent lower recidivism rate than other prisoners, a researcher said Monday.
Sarah Scarbrough also said at a news conference that the Kingdom Life Ministries/Men in Recovery program saved taxpayers nearly $8 million over the four-year course of her study. She said her findings suggest that officials should seek more opportunities to join with private organizations to rehabilitate inmates rather than rely on less effective and more expensive government programs.
"The savings would be unimaginable," she said.
Scarbrough studied the program's effectiveness for her doctoral dissertation at Virginia Commonwealth University. It's a peer-to-peer program, led by prisoners who have dealt with their own drug or alcohol addictions. The spiritually based program, serving about 120 inmates on any given day, incorporates the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous along with group meetings.
"This is a place where real people reside with real issues," said William C. Bosher, the VCU public policy professor who chaired Scarbrough's dissertation.
He said the Richmond jail program "has had remarkable results for human beings who find their way here, but still have a life ahead of them."
Scarbrough said that peer-based programs to reduce recidivism are widely used in some states but are relatively new in Virginia. She added that one feature that sets the Men in Recovery program apart from others is that it offers housing and other transition services, like helping participants find employment and transportation, after they are released from jail.
Officials looking to replicate the success of the Richmond jail program should include those post-release services as a component, Scarbrough said. She said a "best practices model" also would be peer-based; would include an assessment of the inmate's needs immediately upon confinement; and should be rigorous so prisoners "don't have time to sit around and figure out how to become a better criminal."
Those elements should all be included, she said, because they have been proven to work.
"Lawmakers and policymakers should act on research and not slogans like `get tough on crime,'" Scarbrough said.
The Richmond jail program, founded by the McShin Foundation, began in 2008 in the facility's most violent tier, where fights sent an average of 10 inmates per month to emergency rooms. Since the program began, Scarbrough said, there has not been a single fight requiring a trip to the ER _ a savings of about $840,000 in addition to the $7.1 million saved by reducing the recidivism rate among participants to 34 percent.
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