Pathways to Possible—Granite Pathways as a model of peer recovery and what works.

This week we are very pleased to be announcing the  combination of Fedcap with the New Hampshire-based peer recovery center—Granite Pathways. This is a particularly exciting alliance as the work of Granite Pathways and Fedcap is closely aligned in approach to mental illness and substance use disorder treatment and recovery through peer-led practice. The marriage of our two organizations will have a huge impact on recovery efforts in New Hampshire, especially because this approach to meeting the needs of the mentally ill and those struggling with addiction works.

I am sure you are aware of the statistics: New Hampshire has topped headlines as the highest percentage of drug-related deaths per capita in the United States. Over 300 deaths were attributed to opiods in 2015 with at least 80 more suspected to be opiod related—an unprecedented leap from prior years’ statistics. Drug-related deaths topped highway deaths in New Hampshire for the year. The combination of Fedcap and Granite Pathways offers the opportunity for immediate and sustained impact in New Hampshire.

Addressing mental health issues and substance use disorders is complicated—we know that. There is no one-size-fits-all approach but evidence clearly suggests that peer-led strategies, structure, systems, processes, and policies are a solid foundation upon which recovery can be achieved. Research shows that a peer-led recovery environment decreases morbidity rates, improves self-efficacy, lowers incidences of depression, heightens self-esteem, and overall, improves quality of life. Th
e need for social support is the critical element—human connection—makes the difference. Working alongside someone who has experienced the challenges of recovery means that the support is credible and sustaining.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines peer-led recovery efforts in four domains: emotional, informational, affiliational, and instrumental. Each of these four domains offers both technical and social support. The emotional domain is clearly the driver of support as it reflects empathy, caring, and a real connection between and among peers. The informational domain includes learning—vocational skills and practical life-skills knowledge sharing. The affiliational domain seeks to deepen socialization opportunities inside and outside the recovery home. The instrumental domain offers support in a practical way—through problem solving issues such as transportation and child care.

Peer led centers provide hope for those struggling with addiction and mental illness recovery. Please join me in celebrating the alliance between Fedcap and Granite Pathways.

I welcome your comments and feedback about your experiences and thoughts on peer-led treatment options.

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Highlighting the Work of Fedcap’s National Center for Innovation and System Improvement

On Thursday, February 25 from 1:00-2:00 p.m. EST, Fedcap’s National Center for Innovation and System Improvement will host the latest in its webinar series—“Employment of the Previously Incarcerated.”

Sixty-three percent of individuals leaving prison are re-arrested within three years. Unemployment for those previously incarcerated in as much as 50% one year post-release. There is much work to be done to improve the outcomes for those who leave prison. We know that employment is one of the key—if not the key—factors in preventing recidivism. Thursday’s webinar will offer specific, concrete solutions and ideas for ways to support our previously incarcerated as they re-enter society. I urge you to participate—it’s not too late to sign up at: http://ncisi.fedcap.org/training/archive/individual-webinars/employment-of-the-previously-incarcerated

The webinar series is just one among of the offerings from our National Center for Innovation and System Improvement. Living under the umbrella of our Community Impact Institute, the National Center offers technical assistance and training, web-based platforms, credentialing services, and assessment and planning tools—all aimed at building system capacity to better serve people with barriers. The National Center excels at data collection to help tell the story of the ways in which the work of Fedcap is making a difference—and can serve as a national model for creating relevant, sustainable change.

The work of the National Center is practical and practicable. It is driven by the commitment that those with barriers have a voice in decision making at every level—from policy to practice. It is a great example of the work that we do—to offer precise interventions that will change the way in which services are delivered and “move the needle” on their long term outcomes.

I am very proud of the work of the National Center and inspired by the staff from throughout the agency who contribute to the practice and research -thinking beyond the current boundaries of possibilities to forge new frontiers for solutions for those with barriers.

I believe we are all capable of this type of creativity, and I welcome your thinking on ways we continue to forge new interventions for those with barriers.

In the meantime, explore the work of the National Center for Innovation and System Improvement at www.ncisi.fedcap.org, and please join us on Thursday to hear examples of what’s possible for improving the lives of the previously incarcerated.

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Early Intervention and Treatment – Impacting Business Bottom Line

Individuals in recovery are among the bravest people I know. They are resilient and they are perseverant. They have faced one of the hardest battles ever fought, and they must be ever watchful. They fight not only the disease of addiction, but they are faced with ongoing stigma and discrimination that follows them when their struggle with addiction is found out.

Fedcap believes that work completes treatment. Research tells us that people in recovery are among the most highly motivated employees because they want to recover, they want to succeed, and work grants them the structure and the opportunity to get their lives back. Research also tells us that individuals in recovery tend to be loyal and committed to their employers—particularly grateful for the opportunity to do well. Many individuals in recovery are involved in programs which emphasize integrity and responsibility, hope and strength and a daily practice of gratitude. Data tells us that those in recovery also tend to take fewer sick days and are less likely to be on the absentee rosters.

And yet, we know that 46% of those in recovery relapse. Relapse is considered part of treatment. How can employers risk hiring those who might relapse?

Most employers have policies in place that can mitigate risk. Good employment practice would be to encourage early intervention, education and creation of support groups. Chances are quite high that there are individuals among the already employed who are battling substance use disorder. There is no doubt that given the statistics around substance use disorder, just about every employee knows someone battling addiction and would benefit from additional education.

Hiring and keeping motivated employees is key to any business bottom line. The cost of replacing one entry-level employee falls between 30% and 50% of their salary. For mid-level employees, the cost of replacement is closer to 150% of their current wage. And high level replacement falls at close to 400%. Substance use strikes all levels of employment. It is good business to invest in programs that support loyal employees in recovery.

On March 30th, at 8:00 at the Mutual of America Building,  Fedcap will host its 11th Solution Series discussing ways that addressing the needs of employees with mental health issues and substance use disorders can enhance business bottom line.

Please mark your calendars as we embark on this important conversation that will reflect the data and the stories that support our belief that hiring those with mental health and substance use disorders is good for business.

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Restorative Justice and Committing to Help—Alternative Pathways to Incarceration

I recently read an article about Norway’s criminal justice system and was overwhelmed by the contrast in rates of incarcerated and recidivism between our two countries. Just 75 out of 100,000 people are behind bars—compared to our statistic of 707 out of 100,000 incarcerated. Norway has a 20% recidivism rate, compared to the U.S. rate of nearly 80%. Norway’s national practice of restorative justice—focusing on repairing the harm done by the crime rather than on punishment—means that they have put their country’s resources to work to help their prisoners get the resources they need to return safely to society. Their system is clearly working—better than ours by any measure.

Restorative justice is a viable pathway in the United States. It is not a new concept, but any means, but it has not taken hold here as I believe it should. It requires a true and deep commitment to equality and democracy for our citizens—every single one of them. It requires focusing on rehabilitating our incarcerated rather than punishing them. It means focusing on helping those who need help—particularly in the areas of mental illness and addiction—to get the services they need to restore them to better health and ultimately support them as productive citizens.

Are we willing to do what it takes? And if not, why not? And if so, what will it take?

One specific way to move toward a more restorative process is to examine our pre-trial and court processes to implement strategies that will divert—or at least offer an alternative—to detention and incarceration. Here are some practices that are currently at work, and if widely implemented, could alleviate the burden on the prison system:

Diversion programs

Diversion programs are aimed at first-time, non-violent offenders to avoid criminal charges and ultimately, a criminal record. These voluntary programs involve uncovering the root cause of criminal behavior—often some form of mental illness or substance use—or both—and diverting the arrested individual into a program that would alleviate or eliminate the underlying issue that caused the criminal behavior. Once the program is completed successfully, charges would be dismissed.

Alternatives to pre-trial detention

At any one time, there are roughly 500,000 people in awaiting trial and living in detention in the U.S. It has been proven that those who are detained are four times more likely to be sentenced than those who are released in custody prior to trial. Many of these individuals, like those who might qualify for a diversion program, suffer from mental illness or substance use disorder. With a court-ordered screening, the court would hear the charges, and instead of sentencing, an individual could complete a recovery program under close supervision. Upon successful completion of a recovery program, an individual could be released without having been incarcerated.

Alternative to Incarceration programs (ATI)

The ATI program involves a court hearing, but the individual is relegated to an ATI program rather than sentenced to incarceration. Close supervision is conducted by a care coordinator who then reports to the court upon completion of a recovery program in mental health or substance use disorder treatment.

The goals of these pre-trial alternatives is ultimately to reduce crime and to eliminate and/or treat the underlying causes—most often mental illness and/or substance use—of non-violent crimes. They will help identify and offer the support individuals need. Using these strategies means decreasing rates of recidivism, less crowded detention areas, reducing stigma, and working with the community more appropriately to serve non-violent offenders.

Lessons learned from Norway and pockets throughout the U.S. mean that restorative justice implemented through alternatives to incarceration is possible and viable.

What do you think?

 

How can we work with employers to reduce stigma for the previously incarcerated?

One out four adults—65 million—have been incarcerated in the U.S. criminal justice system. At least 40% of these individuals will re-enter the system after release. This is not new news. But it remains an enormous societal problem. Ironically, we know how to mitigate the problem: study after study has consistently found that ex-offenders are less likely to recidivate if they are employed, and the longer they are employed, the farther they get from re-entering the system. However, employers can be reluctant to hire those who have been previously incarcerated without understandable reassurance of safety and preparedness to join the workforce in a productive role.

Research reflects that employers who do hire ex-offenders generally find them to be excellent employees. They are dedicated. They are motivated, and the data suggest that, for the most part, they are grateful to be given the opportunity to work for a legal income. In most situations, an individual’s criminal record has no bearing on their ability to perform their job.

An ex-offender suffers a lifelong sentence reflected in the stigma that comes with the fact of his or her incarceration. It is the stigma that gets in the way of solving the problem of recidivism. Many people fear that an ex-offender may revert to criminal behavior. They tend to believe that ex-offenders possess inherent character flaws that make them untrustworthy, unreliable, and undependable. Sometimes these fears are born out, especially when a former inmate recidivates.

How do we balance the tension between knowing that to solve the problem of recidivism, we need to support our ex-offenders by employing them, with the knowledge that the potential for recidivism is high?

Any hope of dismantling the stigma the previously incarcerated face must lie in approaching the problem from both a practice and policy standpoint. Practice includes meeting the education and job skill deficits of an individual. Vocational rehab programs like those found in our Wildcat Services addresses these deficits and prepares individuals to be job-ready. Successful employment begins to break the stigma as employers experience first-hand the work of dedicated and reliable employees.

Today 92% of U.S. businesses call for a criminal background check before hiring an employee. If the background check reflects criminal activity—of any sort—then an employer is not apt to pursue the candidate. What would happen if we shifted the background check policies? What if an employer has a chance to meet and get to know a candidate before dismissing him or her based on criminal record? Would that—could that—make a difference in how ex-offenders are viewed? I believe it could.

The good news is that there are pioneering employers who are focusing on solving the problem of recidivism by successfully hiring the previously incarcerated. We are fortunate to be working with many of these employers who are chipping away at reducing the stigma associated with hiring the previously incarcerated and ultimately, helping to reduce recidivism.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

 

Employment As A Key To Reduce Recidivism

To change a community, start with a job.–Roberts Economic Development Fund

According to the 2015 Bureau of Justice statistics, 90% of all incarcerated individuals hope—and expect—to return to their communities as productive citizens.  They expect to have an address. They expect to hold a job.  They believe that they have paid their debt to society as sanctioned by the courts.  Yet the statistics reflect that 74.1% of offenders return to prison within 12 months.  And sixty to 75% of former inmates cannot find work within the first year out of jail. The result is that where there once may have been hope, that hope is quickly dashed when the realities of re-entry unfold.

Re-entry is complicated. As I wrote last week, the majority of those who enter the prison system are afflicted with substance use disorder and/or mental health issues. Many come from backgrounds mired in poverty. Most are stigmatized by virtue of time spent in prison. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to reducing recidivism. However, study after study has proven that previously incarcerated individuals who are employed are less likely to return to prison. Employment is a critical key to reducing recidivism. And, keeping just one inmate from returning to prison will save taxpayers roughly $80,000 per year per person.

If employment is key, then what is getting in the way of ex-offenders finding work and staying in the workforce?

One barrier to economic self-sufficiency is access to resources to help ex-offenders find work. At Fedcap, through our Wildcat Division, we provide transitional employment, vocational/work readiness training and jobs. We get to know those whom we serve—targeting individual skill sets, needs, aspirations—and help set goals. This individual, focused attention makes all the difference in the successful employment of ex-offenders.

In November, 2015, President Obama initiated a measure to eliminate requirements that job applicants check a box on their applications if they have criminal records. This measure, heralded by social justice reformers as the “ban the box” movement, aimed to reduce potential discrimination against former convicts in the hiring process for federal jobs. There is also movement to eliminate a background check early in the job application process to allow employers to meet and get to know a candidate before deliberately tossing the application aside because of an individual’s prison record. These are initiatives worth consideration.

Statistics prove that ex-offenders make good workers. We have experienced this at Fedcap. Giving individuals undivided attention, supporting their skill development, and offering concrete training will bear out that hope that they had before they left prison.

On February 25, Fedcap will be hosting a webinar focused on employment of the previously incarcerated. I urge you to attend, and to save the date for our Solution Series on March 30th which will feature a conversation with businesses who have successfully integrated ex-offenders into the ranks of their workforce. These conversations promise to not only enlighten, but also point to precise interventions that will change not only the life of an ex-offender, but also change our community for the better.

As always, I would love to know your thoughts.

Solving Substance Abuse Disorder in our Prisons—The Answers Are Out There.

In 2010, six years ago, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), a think tank that studies substance abuse and how it affects society, created a 119-page analysis to identify the extent at which substance abuse affects the prison population. The stats are staggering: over 80% of those incarcerated either suffer with substance abuse disorder (SUD) or have a history of substance use problems. In its report, CASA offered a set of concrete recommendations to address this problem—recommendations that would not only serve those currently incarcerated, but that would also alleviate the hemorrhaging of public funds that states consistently complain are being poured into the prison system. The money saved could be rerouted to treatment, both inside the walls and through extended care post-incarceration.

To see the full report, go to: http://www.casacolumbia.org/addiction-research/reports/substance-abuse-prison-system-2010

CASA’s recommendations include:

1)      Use trained healthcare professionals to screen, assess, and treat inmates as they enter the prison system.

2)      Provide treatment for co-occurring physical and mental health and addiction problems

3)      Provide comprehensive pre-release planning and after care coordination to continue treatment services

4)      Expand the use of treatment-based alternatives to jail and prison

5)      Require accreditation for prison-and jail-based programs and providers

Fedcap would add comprehensive work readiness activities to this list—due to the high correlation between employment and well being.  Fedcap believes that work completes treatment—for everyone including those re-entering society.

CASA estimates that the cost to implement their recommendations would be roughly $10,000 per inmate. That seems a high price tag, but not if you consider that if just less than 11% of those receiving treatment stay in recovery, the savings could—in just one year’s time—be close to $100,000 per inmate based on their successful return to society without re-entry into the prison system.

As I wrote last week, some states have begun successful programs that are chipping away at the addiction problem in their prisons. And, they are seeing substantial financial savings.  But there is no overarching, national support of these states’ efforts nor is there a comprehensive system to address the problem from the broadest level.

What is the reluctance to implement programs that would support individuals struggling with addiction and society as a whole?

We need to discuss the reasons behind the reluctance if we are to move to a national solution. What are our biases? What will it take to create a national framework, when, if implemented could change the paradigm not only for individual inmates and their families, but society as a whole?

The prison system is a perfect incubator to try out a national solution. The results of the efforts, are easy to track, monitor, and assess. Changes could be made quickly as part of an iterative and ongoing solution.

What do you think stands in the way of implementing well-researched strategies for addressing the addiction problem in our prisons? Why do you think there is such reluctance? And, what do you think can be done about it?

Why We Must Start Treatment and Work Readiness Inside the Walls: What will make the difference?

Six hundred and fifty-thousand people are released from jails and prisons each year.  The latest statistics suggest that at least 43% of those released will reenter the criminal justice system in some capacity. The criminal justice system costs taxpayers $52 billion dollars a year—and counts as the second highest expense within many state budgets.

Understanding and reducing recidivism is complex, made more so by the fact that each state chooses its own system of measurement—there are no consistent national measures. For example, some states count re-incarceration as a mark of recidivism while other states factor reconvictions, which do not necessarily result in a prison or jail sentence.  For more information on an eight-state recidivism study, go to the June 2014 National Reentry Resource Center white paper at https://www.bja.gov/Publications/CSG-ReducingRecidivism.pdf .

In the past six years, there have been some state successes in reducing recidivism. Those states where the rates have dropped have a key point in common: they employ a comprehensive approach to reforming a system that includes:

1) Working with the incarcerated population as they enter the criminal justice system and alongside them within the prison walls before they are released. We can treat the 55% of men and 73% of women who suffer from mental illness.  We can treat the 30-60% of inmates who struggle with substance use disorder. And we can provide tools to become job ready once individuals are released.

2) Engaging business in readying them to receive newly released inmates into their workforce. We know that in general, previously incarcerated individuals tend to have a high work ethic. Clearly, risk management is involved in this process, but given Fedcap’s experience in working with the court involved and previously incarcerated, the work is doable if all the parties involved work together toward a common, optimistic goal.  Here is a link to a video that describes the journey of a young man involved in our program.

In the weeks to come, I’ll further explore the specifics around addiction, mental illness, and employment among those who are previously incarcerated.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Power of Possible

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.  Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” –Helen Keller

As I reflect on 2015, I consistently marvel at what can happen when people unite in a common, optimistic purpose. This year, as a result of collaboration among our family of organizations, we helped make it possible for 70,000 people to  change the course of their lives, their work, and ultimately, their legacy, through job placements, educational services, training, a variety of assessments, and behavioral and health services. I am proud of the commitment I witness every day by my colleagues who work alongside our customers. Our staff is dedicated and hardworking, joined in their common vision to improve the lives of those we serve through innovation, creativity, problem-solving and action. I am humbled by the work I witness, done in service to our customers. But even more, I am humbled by the optimism, the faith, the hope, and ultimately, the courage it takes for those we serve to invite change—especially change that will have far-reaching, long-lasting consequences for generations to come.

I have done a lot of research on change theories. I have learned that the majority of people—even those faced with life-threatening illness or danger—do not opt to step away from what is familiar into what feels like dangerous and unknown territory.

What does it take to effect change? Change starts with vision, with hope, and with optimism. It starts with imaging what is possible. For many of our customers, it means stepping away from the constructs of history and stigma to imagine a world where opportunity is equal, where there is a chance for economic independence and where it is possible to change the course of one family’s story.

Change cannot happen without vision, hope and optimism. But it takes sustainable action to truly drive change. Action looks like showing up for class or work day after day, even with transportation or child care issues. It means pushing through the stigma of a past history to create a new future and believing in success. It means trusting someone when trust has been missing before now. It means believing there are choices when the course may have seemed prescribed for generations past.

As I look to 2016, I am ever more optimistic about what all of us can achieve working together. We have plans that reflect our commitment to work that is sustainable, relevant, and which will have the greatest impact on the greatest number of people. The power of possible is boundless. I am excited to share this journey with you. I believe that together, we can imagine—and create—a new paradigm for independence, dignity and joy for many thousands more people. What do you imagine is possible?

 

A Savings Account Can Change a Life of a Young Person in Foster Care

The statistics for youth aging out of the foster care system are startling:

  • 24,000 young people age out of the foster system each year.
  • 1 in 5 become homeless.
  • Only half will be employed by age 24.
  • Fewer than 3% will earn a college degree.
  • 71% of young women will become pregnant.
  • 1 in 4 will suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder.

We know that one of the key issues for youth aging out of care is lack of support for fundamental living skills, including high school completion, finding employment, accessing health care, securing housing and living arrangements, and support the world of adulthood.

Few young people today are “adult” based on the traditional markers of adulthood: leaving home, finishing school, starting a job, getting married, and having children. A new FC Pictureperiod of life is emerging in which young people are no longer adolescents but not yet adults. Changes in the world around them have altered the very contour and content of early adult life. Many youth transitioning from the child welfare and juvenile justice systems receive little to no instruction or support about how to survive and thrive in the adult world, and often face a losing battle. Ultimately, serious problems occur in the lives of youth in care, because they leave the system without having been provided by their appointed caregivers, the necessary beliefs, aspirations and tools required to succeed.

It was these realities that led Fedcap to “dig deeper” into the concept of building a platform for self-sufficiency for young people in care—adding a forth pillar to the traditional child welfare construct of safety, permanency and well-being. Over the past six years, Fedcap has identified five core elements that lead to self-sufficient lives: 1) inspiration and belief in self-worth, 2) support in establishing bold goals, 3) understanding how to access educational pathways, 4) learning to manage emotional triggers and tapping into personal strengths, and 5) building networks of professional support.

Let’s briefly explore the concept of inspiration.   Did you know that a simple savings account can serve to inspire a young person in care to go to college? And because 70% of youth in care say that they want to go to college, and less than 10% actually matriculate and of those, fewer than 3% graduate—this seems like a critical area of focus.   One of the first steps towards preparing a child for college is ensuring that he/she aspires to go to college. Simply put, children who start planning early to go to college are more likely to enroll in college. Several rigorous Random Control Studies show that starting children with college savings early in life can have positive impacts on their socio-emotional development and impact their long term academic success. The research in this area finds that children develop ideas about their higher education plans early on; that college savings help children think of themselves as college-bound; and that savings accounts help children build a financial plan around paying for college. Children with $500 or less saved for college are 3 times more likely to enroll and 4 times more likely to graduate.

The savings account as one of many strategies Fedcap employs that says “we believe you can go to college, you can succeed”.

Imagine the impact—economically and socially—were we to ensure that every child in foster care had a college savings account.   What would it take; what could it take?

I believe it is possible to change the statistics and outcomes for youth aging out of care. What do you think?