PORTLAND, Maine — Substance abuse and mental health counselors at Catholic Charities of Maine expect new challenges as the nonprofit group begins counseling federal prisoners this week, but are eager to begin serving the new patients.
“These are the people we work with. We have come to a different crossroads in which way to go. This is what we have developed our expertise in,” Director of Services Carolee Lindsey said.
A $1.7 million, five-year contract with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons means Catholic Charities will expand its counseling to include residents of the Pharos House, a Grant Street halfway house for men and women completing federal prison terms. Some people in the program may also be serving terms in home confinement.
Lindsey and Clinical Director Abbie Sturm expect CCM to begin counseling as many as 10 people immediately and as many as 40 per year. The services include dispensing medications for mental health treatment, but not alternative medications for opioid addiction.
Lindsey and Sturm said there will be between one and four hours of weekly counseling to help identify, and then avoid, the triggers that have resulted in incarceration.
The offenders will have already been part of a substance abuse and mental health treatment program in prison, and established they are ready to begin a transition to life beyond bars.
Recognizing and avoiding what triggers substance abuse and criminal activity is the key to preventing the inmates from returning to prison, the counselors said.
“They will already come with some language and knowledge about their triggers and what their criminal thinking is,” Lindsey said.
The real key can come in the group sessions, where the prisoners can directly reinforce what is needed to stop criminal behavior.
“The higher the risk factors, the more they encourage you to do groups,” Lindsey said. “The participants call each other out.”
Catholic Charities already provides counseling and treatment to offenders referred from drug courts in Androscoggin and Cumberland counties, as well as the drug courts operated locally by the National Institute of Justice. The Institute is defined on its website as “the research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice.”
Sturm said she undertook training to prepare for the new services.
‘We are targeting risk factors for recidivism, matching treatment to individuals risk of re-offending,” she said. “It reinforces a lot of what we believe in, giving people a chance. Using the criminal justice system is incredibly costly, and you are usually worsening people by putting them in there.”
The program seeks to break cycles for the offenders and the patterns and behaviors that can become a cycle within families. Those coming to the program with opioid addiction will present additional challenges, Sturm said.
“It’s much more challenging than what we are used to working with the in the past. People relapse and we have to get used to that,” she said.
Lindsey said the program will not rely as much on peer-to-peer counseling, even though group sessions will bring issues out into the open.
“The more structured a community program is, the more potential for success there is,” Lindsey said. “We are changing patterns, habits, thinking and belief systems.”
Sturm said she expects to feel rewarded by incremental success.
“If you reach one person, that is enough for me. One person who decides to be present for their children,” she said.