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New Weber County program aims to help jail inmates overcome drug, mental health problems

By Mark Shenefelt standard-Examiner - | Nov 4, 2020
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The library inside Weber County Jail on Monday, Sept. 9, 2019. The jail is expanding programs to help inmates get substance abuse and mental health treatment and land jobs upon release, Lt. Phillip Reese told the Weber County Commission on Nov. 2, 2020.

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In this screenshot taken from a Zoom video conference, Weber County Sheriff's Office Lt. Phillip Reese tells the Weber County Commission on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2020, about a new program to help jail inmates overcome substance abuse and mental health issues and get jobs when they are released.

OGDEN — Weber County is entering into a four-year, $421,000 contract with the University of Cincinnati to train local staff in helping jail inmates kick drug habits, get mental health counseling and find jobs after release.

The program is being paid for by part of a $1 million grant the county was awarded last year by the U.S. Justice Department.

The grant is intended for development of community reentry programs for adult inmates with substance abuse and mental health issues, according to Justice Department documents.

The County Commission Tuesday unanimously approved a contract with the University of Cincinnati, which has a renowned jail training program.

The university’s Corrections Institute teaches core correctional practices for all jail staff and offers additional “train the trainers” education so key staff will be able to develop an ongoing internal training regimen.

The county sought the funding after years of worsening problems in local jail populations related to substance abuse and mental illness.

Utah county jails reported a record 25 deaths statewide in 2016, many due to suicide, drug addiction or withdrawal.

The Utah Legislature in 2018 ordered annual reporting on jail deaths and their causes and implemented programs to get at the root causes.

Weber County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Phillip Reese told commissioners the Cincinnati program has two main parts: data gathering and analysis, and education.

“An ever-evolving amount of information” will be collected and tracked to help personnel tune programming for individual inmates, Reese said.

He said the university trainers will equip local staff “to really prevent cognitive behavior” paths that often foil inmates who want to get better.

The program teaches staff tools of intervention that are born of “scientifically factual and proven methods.”

“With this we can assist inmates to better their lives and move forward,” Reese said.

The base training will educate corrections staff on “what substance use looks like on a day-to-day basis,” he said.

The training also will outline criteria for developing case management plans for each inmate.

The university program is intended to expand an existing effort, the Weber Addictions and Reentry Program, or WARP.

WARP has aimed to foster coordination among corrections, jail medical staff, substance abuse and mental health treatment providers, and parole and probation services.

The Weber jail has had six reported inmate deaths since 2018. Three were ruled suicides, one man died of a methamphetamine overdose and another death is under investigation because the circumstances were suspicious.

The most recent death was that of a woman who was under medical observation and died while being helped to the shower, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The Davis County Jail has reported three deaths this year, all apparent suicides.

Davis County officials also are taking steps to help inmates confronted by mental health issues or substance addictions.

Dozens of nonviolent inmates this year have been taken to a Receiving Center next to the Davis jail, where instead of being booked and put behind bars, they are invited to sign up for substance use or mental health programs.


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