Room to grow: Outpatient treatment program for former inmates has empty seats available; Boyle officials want to fill them

Published 6:31 am Friday, April 27, 2018

Numerous officials agree the Shepherd’s House treatment program for former inmates is having a lot of success. But there’s lots of room for more success — the program was at less than half of its maximum capacity at the end of March.

Ben Kleppinger/
Boyle County Magistrate Jack Hendricks wants to see more seats filled in the Shepherd’s House treatment program for former inmates of the Boyle County Detention Center.

“It’s a proven fact that this program works — we’ve already proved that,” Boyle County Magistrate Jack Hendricks said. “So we’ve got to really stretch it out and make sure that we do all we can do to help these people that are (graduating) or get (inmates) into Shepherd’s House.”

According to the program’s March report, there were 25 former inmates participating as clients at the end of the month. Three clients graduated in March; five returned to jail (discharged); and 10 were admitted as new clients. Six of those clients are enrolled in GED classes; six are working tax-paying jobs; and six are at inpatient facilities for drug treatment.

Email newsletter signup

Boyle County Attorney Lynne Dean agrees the program — which provides addiction counseling and job training; offers mentors; and requires clients to hold jobs or do community service — has already seen a great deal of success. The goal is rehabilitation of people in jail with drug issues, helping them overcome addiction and become contributing members of society. Officials hope the program will reduce recidivism and ultimately decrease the population of the Boyle County Detention Center.

“I had a guy a month ago that I had been prosecuting my entire 10 years here … I honestly had to fight back tears I was so proud of him,” she said of a recent graduate from the Shepherd’s House program. “He got his GED, he completed the program, he graduated and we’re not dealing with him anymore. I could not be happier about that. It’s a wonderful feeling for me; and (Shepherd’s House Director) Roger (Fox) has educated me tremendously on the benefits of treatment and the issues that we face. I’ve grown a lot as a person and as a prosecutor because of the process.”

But there are a lot of empty spots open in the program, which can handle a maximum of 60 clients at once. Boyle County Jailer Barry Harmon pointed out Shepherd’s House charges the jail for every 20 slots it uses. That means the jail is paying for 20, 40 or 60 slots. With 25 clients at the end of March, that means the jail was paying for 15 slots that weren’t filled.

The Shepherd’s House charges $13 per day for each client. Assuming the program kept a flat population of 25 clients all month, that would mean about $6,000 of what the jail paid for the program in March went to empty seats.

(Even so, the cost for 25 clients and 15 empty spots in the Shepherd’s House program is less than it would have cost the jail to house 25 inmates all month. According to the Shepherd’s House March report, the jail would have spent $24,800 housing 25 inmates for the month; the cost for 40 spots in the Shepherd’s House program during March was $16,120.)

“We need to really step that up because we’re paying for clients that aren’t there,” Harmon said Tuesday. “We’re at 331 (inmates) right now, with 150 Boyle, 60 Mercer. Surely there’s 10 or 15 that could go into this program.”

County Attorney Dean said she has been working with Shepherd’s House Director Fox to identify potential candidates for the program, but they’ve run into some issues with the data on inmates they get from the jail. Fox retrieves lists of potential candidates from the jail, which he then shares with Dean, who analyzes the candidates.

“That is something that we made the jail consultants aware of and I think they’re going to work on that,” she said. “Most of the people on the list that I had were either already on the program or they were not indeed serving just district court contempts, they had felonies.”

Jail consultants from Brandstetter Carroll are developing a study of the local criminal justice system that will include recommendations for making the system more efficient, reducing the jail population and decreasing recidivism. Dean said as part of that process, the consultants are working with jail staff to make sure all the jail data is input the same way so information will be uniform and more easily used by people like her.

Dean said she also needs to look into how many spots in the Shepherd’s House program Mercer County plans to use. Originally, the two counties that share the operating costs of the jail had planned to split enrollment in the Shepherd’s House program 50/50. But Boyle has enrolled many more than Mercer has, and Dean indicated she might be able at some point to send even more Boyle inmates if she gets an OK from Mercer to use more spots.

“Not that I could fill it right now, but I could increase if Mercer is not going to use those spots,” she said.

Dean said another factor in low enrollment is just the fact that the program is relatively new.

“We’re just kind of getting used to this program,” she said. “We had a very successful first year with it. It’s wonderful; Roger is doing a fantastic job. But now we’re facing a little bit of a different issue, which is we’ve got people graduating — which is wonderful. But then, we have three people graduate and those three spots open up. We may or may not be ready to fill those right away.”