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Douglas County panel advances jail re-entry specialist job

Daily Telegram - 9/22/2023

Sep. 19—SUPERIOR — A plan to use Douglas County opioid settlement dollars to fund a new re-entry specialist job at the jail has cleared one step toward approval. The Douglas County Health and Human Services Board gave its go-ahead Sept. 14.

The specialist would connect people leaving incarceration with community resources and provide case management and long-term support for those who have an opioid use disorder or are at risk for opioid use.

"My goal is to provide as many resources as we can to the entire jail population," Sheriff Matt Izzard said. "I like to think of this as a one-stop shop for community resources."

The jail has a program coordinator, but they are confined to inside the walls of the jail. They can provide information on where inmates can apply for basic needs — a Social Security card, an identification card, FoodShare, BadgerCare, housing and more — but they can't go with them.

"This person could actually walk them across the hall now and say, 'Here, this is the person you need to talk to' and make an introduction," Izzard said. "It's overcoming those barriers."

The new position is aimed at reducing relapse, recidivism, crime and opioid-related deaths. The primary focus would be to aid known opioid users in getting treatment and other resources in place.

Health and Human Services Director Anna Carlson said that if inmates go back among the using culture and population after they're released, they often go back to using the same amount as they did prior to incarceration and it's too much for their body.

"The longer they're incarcerated, the more their tolerance goes down. They use at the same level and it kills them," Izzard said.

The re-entry specialist can conduct a pre-release assessment to find out what each person's needs are and build a personalized plan to overcome those barriers.

"And if the program is wildly successful like I hope it is, it would actually reduce the fiscal impact on our medical staff, on our deputies, our jail, if we can keep them out of the jail," Izzard said.

The multifaceted job includes creating a resource list; advocating for re-entry clients; connecting with resource providers; partnering with the courts and the Superior Police Department's crisis response specialist; tracking success; and even providing transportation to job interviews and treatment.

Participation in case management would be voluntary, the sheriff said, and it is not a diversion program. There are plans to incorporate medication-assisted treatment in future, but that would require additional grant funding and a health partner.

"It's a great idea and I commend you and your staff and everybody on your team for coming up with that idea. We've got to try it," said County Board member Alan Jaques.

If the position is approved, it could be funded with the county's opioid settlement dollars for 15 years. Cost projections for the program, which includes salary, training and a vehicle, range from $88,000-$127,000 per year.

"There will be additional funds probably coming out with the different settlements that are still going on. We could potentially, you know, add to the program with more funding coming in," Carlson said, and it would also open up grant opportunities.

The re-entry specialist position is the result of a year-long planning process that brought together stakeholders from health and human services, the sheriff's office, the finance department, the District Attorney's Office, Judge Kelly Thimm, Medical Examiner Sheila Keup, the Superior Police Department, Superior Treatment Center, Superior Fire Department and Essentia Health.

"This program is being put in place to help save lives," Izzard said. "Crime reduction is also a byproduct of sobriety, but the drug-related deaths in Douglas County have increased at an alarming number. It is becoming more and more common for people to personally know someone who struggles with addiction and I want that to change."

Next up, the position must be approved by the Public Safety Committee on Sept. 28 and Administration Committee on Oct. 5 to be moved forward to the County Board meeting Oct. 19. If it clears those hurdles, Izzard said his goal is to start providing the service in January.

The headline on this story was updated at 10:38 a.m.Sept. 21 to more accurately describe the body that approved creating the position. It was originally posted at 11:40 a.m.Sept. 19. The Telegram regrets the error.


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