In July 2019, seven peer recovery coaches with lived experience in recovery from substance use and past contact with the criminal justice system began work for public defender corporations in 22 counties, serving 14 judicial circuits. The purpose of embedding recovery coaches into public defender corporations was simple: intervene into criminal defendant substance use issues at the earliest stage of the criminal justice process (pretrial, prior to release from incarceration) to advocate for treatment, save lives, and reduce the county jail bill.
Between July 1, 2019 and December 31, 2019, the 7 recovery coaches received 375 referrals – the majority (81%) of whom were incarcerated in a regional jail at the time of their referral. By intervening early and linking clients to treatment immediately upon release from incarceration, the recovery coaches helped reduce the risk for recidivism, relapse, and overdose death by criminal defendants post-incarceration – a particularly prone period.
Initial recovery coach project numbers also reflect statewide trends in substance use: methamphetamines and heroin are both currently abused at high rates with high potential for overdose death if untreated. Not surprisingly, 90% of criminal defendants referred to the recovery coach were charged with a direct drug crime (such as possession) or a drug-related crime (such as forgery to support their substance use disorder).
The recovery coaches are currently conducting six-month check-ins with their clients, following up on client sobriety, recidivism, and other treatment needs. For eighteen months the recovery coaches will maintain contact with the clients referred to them and continue to offer the clients support, guidance, and assistance to reduce the potential for relapse and recidivism as these clients re-enter their communities, find employment, and return to their families.
Selected outcomes from the first five months of the project are reflected in this graphic.