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More than half of prisoners participate in jail programs

September 30, 2007|By ERIN JULIUS

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Almost 28 percent of the inmates held at the Washington County Detention Center are serving time on charges related to alcohol or drug use. Some see rehabilitation as the answer.

"We need more help in addictions. Stop throwing us in jail when we need a rehab or something," said Elaine Whalen, 49.

Whalen, who was awaiting trial on a drug charge, had just received permission to participate in the Jail Substance Abuse Program (JSAP), she said during a Sept. 19 interview.

"I'm not a bad person, I just have a bad addiction," she said.

An admitted drug addict, she has been in and out of the judicial system much of her life, usually on prostitution charges, but has never been through any sort of rehabilitation program, Whalen said. She said she does attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

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About 62 percent of the prisoners at the jail participate in some sort of program, which includes everything from church to drug treatment to home detention and work release, said Lt. Terri Blair, inmate programs supervisor at the detention center.

Michael Yeagy, 47, of Hagerstown, was serving time for driving under the influence and was enrolled in the JSAP program.

"They help you understand things ... figure out what went wrong," Yeagy said.

Its programs are the best thing the jail has going for it, said Timothy Sweitzer, 41, originally from Cumberland, Md.

JSAP, TMAR (Trauma, Mental Health and Addictions Recovery) and anger management all are excellent programs, he said.

JSAP is one of the jail's two most popular programs, and the largest in terms of numbers of inmates enrolled, Blair said.

Motivating inmates is difficult, she said.

"One of the biggest problems is getting them motivated to make the changes," Blair said. "Some of them don't want to take advantage of what's available to them."

Inmates often request Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings, but the jail hasn't offered the program in more than a year because Blair can't find volunteers to conduct the meetings, she said.

Substance abuse programs aren't the only programs offered.

Adult basic education is offered, and the GED test is offered at the jail four times a year.

Since 2000, 118 inmates have earned their GEDs, said Robbie Matonak, who teaches GED classes at the jail.

For female inmates, I Am Woman is conducted by the health department. Its goal is to educate women about safe sex, self-control and pride. The health department also offers parenting classes and the Healthy Start program, which focuses on high-risk pregnant inmates and provides prenatal care.

More than 100 volunteers work to bring programs to the jail, Blair said.

Coming Monday

Check out the jail through the eyes of those who work there, and those who are being held there.

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