How a Chesterfield recovery program has changed the lives of its participants

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Posted at 6:40 PM, Jun 25, 2024

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Chesterfield County Jail's Helping Addicts Recovery Progressively Program, or HARP, has gotten national recognition, from going viral on TikTok to getting the attention of music superstar Jellyroll.

Sheriff Karl Leonard and clinicians say the recovery program has had unparalleled success due to it being peer-led and peer-supported.

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"We're at our lowest daily population that we've had in 8 years, and it continues to come down," Leonard said during a meeting with Senator Warner and county leaders at the jail Tuesday.

"That's people not coming back, not being a drain on society," Leonard said, saying the average cost for Chesterfield County to house just one inmate is around $48,000.

"They've got a recovery rate that's higher than almost anything in the country," Senator Warner said after learning more about the program, hearing directly from program participants.

But some program participants say they're concerned about what may happen once they're released from the jail, saying they will no longer have access to the same kind of mental and physical treatments offered through the program.

Ashley Broughton requested to be transferred to Chesterfield County Jail from a different facility.

"To be completely honest, I'm scared to come home. And I have a great support system at home, and I have my kid there, but the love that I'm getting here, it's like the first time in life, where I can be myself and people really want to help me," Broughton said. "I noticed that when people were coming out of prison they were coming straight back, like within months, or they were dying. They didn't come back, they were dying."

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Ashley Broughton

Broughton said when she was not incarcerated, she had little to no support.

"There was nobody I could ever go to outside to help me, and I don't want to feel like I have to come back to jail in order to get the help and assistance that I need," Broughton said. "I feel bad for the people in prison who can't get these services, I don't know if they don't have the proper staff or whatever the case is."

Cameron Miller, another HARP program member, said she struggled to get access to care when she was not incarcerated.

"I did do a couple of programs on the outside. My insurance at the time would not, with the job that I had, would not cover full treatment, it would only cover a certain percentage," Miller said.

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Cameron Miller

HARP utilizes therapy methods like tapping, which helps calm the mind and body during periods of stress. It also uses Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy, also known as EMDR, which involves moving your eyes certain ways while processing memories that may be considered traumatic.

"When we leave, if these are things that we want to continue to use, they're going to be outside our budget, and outside of most people's budget. Even therapists who are skilled in trauma are not covered by most insurances, let alone Medicaid or any of those types of things," Miller said.

According to a VCU study, only about 17% of those who are formerly incarcerated receive a diagnosis or treatment for substance use disorder, despite a vast majority of them registering for Medicaid and other social services.

Senator Warner said multiple issues need to be addressed, from staffing shortages among mental health workers and lack of recovery and detox programs, to barrier crimes that prevent those who are formerly incarcerated from getting well-paying jobs when they're released.

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Senator Mark Warner

“There’s not going to be a single answer, but it starts frankly with the Sheriff’s team here at the jail believe in reentry, believe in the fact that these men and women can be contributors to society and I’m not sure that’s the case in all of our corrections facility," Warner said. "A little bit of this spirit spread on a broader basis would make a heck of a lot better Virginia."

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