Opioid recovery coaches reconnected with Hancock County Jail inmates Friday after a seven-month hiatus as the public health organization in charge of the coaching program signed a new agreement with the county.
Recovery coaches from Healthy Acadia reconnected with the jail’s inmate population around 9 a.m. Friday after the Ellsworth nonprofit signed the agreement with Hancock County, said Elsie Flemings, the executive director.
Coaches were able to meet Friday via Zoom with three inmates, Flemings said, and eight inmates in total were referred to Healthy Acadia recovery coaches — peer mentors who start working with inmates while they’re incarcerated and help them navigate their recovery once they’re released.
The return of coaches to the jail marked the end of an eventful week-and-a-half after the BDN reported Jan. 26 that Sheriff Scott Kane had barred Healthy Acadia from working with jail staff or inmates after the organization issued a statement in support of Black Lives Matter, which Kane said offended him.
Before that, the organization had been providing opioid recovery coaches to inmates at the jail who wanted help with their substance use disorder.
Kane reversed his decision earlier this week after seven months went by and he was unable to find another group to provide the service, and after a public outcry following the BDN article on the situation.
With the program being effectively suspended for 7 months, Flemings said, addicted inmates did not have trained recovery coaches who could provide them with “hope, support, connection and trust” — all of which help to put those inmates in a better position to stay sober when they are released and not reoffend. Some of the inmates were young, around 20 years old, and did not have parental or family support to help them get their addictions under control, she said.
The service was important enough to some inmates that, after they were cut off from their recovery coaches and then later released, they reconnected with those coaches to try to stay sober, Flemings said.
She said the group is “grateful” to be able to reactivate the recovery coaching program, to help inmates recover from opioid addiction, and to reduce the damage of addiction on Hancock County. She said she is confident the new agreement will result in a “positive, mutually respectful working relationship” between Healthy Acadia, Kane, and jail staff.
Two members of the jail’s board of visitors on Friday said they are happy that Healthy Acadia’s recovery coaching program has been reinstated at the jail. The board of visitors is a jail oversight board whose members are appointed by the sheriff.
The board members — Betsy Duncombe and Jean Hendrick, both of Deer Isle — said they are relatively new additions to the six-member board, having been appointed last year, but that they have extensive prior experience either volunteering or offering professional services at the jail. Hendrick, a retired innkeeper, has been a volunteer counselor at the jail for more than 15 years, while Duncombe is a licensed clinical social worker.
Capt.Tim Richardson, the jail’s administrator, said there is one current vacancy on the board that the county is looking to fill.
The Legislature passed a law in 2003 that requires each county to have an appointed board of visitors for its jail, but many counties have created such boards only in the past couple of years. Richardson said the jail previously had an informal group of volunteers that he would consult with from time to time, but that a month or so ago the group was formally appointed as the county’s board of visitors and held its first meeting.
Board members are supposed to inspect the jails they oversee, and make recommendations on how to maintain a safe and healthy environment for prisoners, particularly those with mental illness, according to state statute.