Yale, state partners to offer integrated system of care for addicted offenders

A new grant-funded program led by a Yale professor will help 300 prison inmates successfully transition back to their communities and families in Greater New Haven.

The program, which started in January and is called “Living Free,” will provide services and support to substance-using women and men with the goal of reducing recidivism for illegal behavior. Studies show up to 68 percent of addicted offenders are re-arrested within three years of release from incarceration.

Sherry McKee, PhD, professor of psychiatry at Yale Medical School and deputy director of Women’s Health Research at Yale, will lead the service, which will be funded by a three-year $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in conjunction with the Connecticut Department of Correction and Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS).

New Haven is the fourth poorest city for its size in the country, and there are limited services available for addicted offenders who are released from prison. That leaves people without support, and increases the chances they will relapse and return to prison.

“Those leaving incarceration are at high risk of relapse, and this program will allow us to more efficiently connect them to addiction treatment immediately upon release,” said Lindsay Oberleitner, PhD, associate director of the Forensic Drug Division (ForDD) Clinic of the Connecticut Mental Health Center in New Haven, where the program will be primarily based.

Individualized, person-centered treatment plans will be developed for each offender. “This new program will offer needed resources to address addiction, mental and physical health, and community support tailored to each individual to improve the quality of their lives,” McKee said.

We plan to demonstrate that this model of care can serve as a framework to establish sustainable services for women and men with primary addiction issues re-entering the community across the state of Connecticut

Sherry McKee, PhD, professor of psychiatry at Yale Medical School and deputy director of Women’s Health Research at Yale

Loel Meckel, assistant director of the Forensic Services Division for DMHAS, and project investigator, said, “This grant will enhance the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services’ efforts to provide the most effective services to individuals committed to recovery from addiction.”

The program will also address people’s physical health after they are released from incarceration.

“Thirty percent of men and 46 percent of women leave prison with chronic and serious healthcare needs which need immediate attention,” said Kathleen Maurer, MD, director of health and addiction services at the Connecticut Department of Correction and project investigator. “This program recognizes that addiction and health care are linked, and critically will address both.”

Offenders who return to the community with chronic health needs such as HIV, diabetes, and cancer will be treated by Emily Wang, MD, associate professor of Yale Medical School and founder of the Transitions Clinic, which provides primary care solely to people with a history of incarceration.

“Transitional health care is a critical safeguard for individuals coming home from prison, especially among patients with substance use disorders,” Wang said. “This program is a great opportunity to couple culturally-competent primary care with our partners’ expertise in addiction treatment.”

Peer support will also be utilized to help offenders find housing and jobs, and educational opportunities.

"Peer support offers a relationship that serves to mentor, coach, and re-connect individuals to all aspects of their communities,” said Chyrell Bellamy, PhD, assistant professor and director of peer services and research for the Yale Program for Recovery & Community Health.

This "wrap-around" model of care is expected to decrease substance use and criminal justice involvement, improve physical health, and increase community engagement in a cost-effective way.

This article was submitted by Christopher S Gardner on January 26, 2016.

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Chyrell D Bellamy

Assistant Professor of Psychiatry

Sherry McKee

Professor of Psychiatry

Lindsay Oberleitner

Associate Research Scientist in Psychiatry

Emily Wang

Associate Professor of Medicine (General Medicine)