Corporal Keely Ray, an Allen County confinement officer with 16 years at the jail, has seen the desperate side of drug addiction.
The slide into drugs, the petty theft to feed the habit, missed court dates, incarceration, painful detox at the jail, release that sends inmates back to their old ways and, sometimes, in this era of fentanyl-laced street drugs, non-fatal and fatal overdose.
You may have seen Ray in Allen County courts, advocating for an inmate because the system often reinforces the downward trajectory and hopelessness a family and addict feel.
Ray has also experienced the substance abuse problem in her own family. With tears in her eyes, she says her 23-year-old daughter has been drug free since April 2021.
Ray is now the Allen County Jail JCAP coordinator, a program that helps addicts at the end of their rope through counseling, introspection, bookwork and life skills training. The 12-week Jail Chemical Addictions Program offers no other incentive than to beat the addiction. No sentence reduction, no special favors.
Allen County is the 10th county in the state to institute JCAP, a recovery program shown to work.
According to the state website, the JCAP program in Dearborn County “is credited with helping slash the number of repeat drug abuse offenders by more than half. Approximately 43 percent of general-population inmates in Dearborn County wind up being arrested again upon release. By contrast, only 18% of JCAP graduates are picked up for new offenses upon release.”
“JCAP participants are separated from others in the jail population and expected to spend at least 90 days in cognitive behavioral therapy,” the website said. “Master’s-level social workers conduct group and individual counseling. A key to long-term success is to create solid plans for continued treatment once participants complete their sentences.”
Research shows that people with substance abuse relapse and relapse again before they get clean. They usually hate themselves as much as their families hate what’s going on, says Courtney Jenkins, Kosciusko County JCAP coordinator for four years.
She is still living with the nightmare of a son fighting addiction and says, in her experience, 95% of addicts have endured some kind of physical or sexual abuse when they were young. While others may try drugs and not develop a dependency, an addict needs the drug to cope.
Prior to her appointment to this position, Ray was the one in charge of prison transport, working with male and female inmates.
“We needed somebody that understood the working situation of the jail and on top of it, after talking with Courtney (Jenkins), somebody that understood addictions. And what better person (than) to have a current employee that unfortunately faces or is a parent of somebody that’s an addict,” Hershberger said. “There’s a fine balance between holding a person accountable for the wrongdoing, but giving that chance of change and that hope of change.”
Seven years ago, the nightmare of having a family member on drugs started for Ray.
“I didn’t understand that until it affected my own child,” Ray said. She had to learn how to understand her own child. “It’s been a year clean. Today is a good day.”
Ray said success is “all about wanting to change,” but “addiction is a vicious cycle. They’ve damaged every relationship. They’re in the legal system. They have no support.” With JCAP, where they’ll receive counseling and treatment, “they will also make connections that will help them rebuild and fix the damage they’ve done,” Ray said.
Ray said one of the first steps is acknowledging the problem.
“First you’re in denial. Until you admit you have a problem, you’re not ready. You can try (recovery), but until you’re ready to change, until you admit you have a problem, even at that point, you may have had several relapses … because of that strong hold, that change in the chemicals of your brain, you can and do recover.”
In Kosciusko County, 86% of the inmates have a chemical dependency, Jenkins said, and that’s very nearly the national average.
Hershberger said jail staff would have liked to initiate JCAP earlier, but because of the overcrowding, there wasn’t enough space to set aside a block for the program. The enrolled inmates are kept together as they travel on the healing journey.
“The jail was so full, we couldn’t have done it if we’d wanted to,” because of the classifications that require inmates to be separated. There were nine, but now there are 10 because of the program, Hershberger added. “We now have a room or block area that we can designate to this group.”
The jail is the last resort for these individuals who often end up incarcerated after they’ve violated probation from one of the problem-solving courts.
“When they stumble and fail, at some point, they end up back at the jail,” Hershberger explained. Friday, there were 172 inmates in jail on probation violations, 24 Community Corrections violators, 10 Circuit Court violators and one inmate in jail on a Re-Entry court violation. The numbers rarely fluctuate much.
JCAP tries to create an environment the inmates are willing to accept. “You’ve got to get them clean and sober first. Then “give them the tools and resources to make that change in their own life,” Hershberger said.
Ray said there are a lot of resources in the county. It’s a matter of trying to pull them together. On this program, housing is a process that has already been started, she said, if that is a problem. Second chance employers will come in to do mock interviews.
(Extended interview by Jamie Duffy. Edited by Danielle Hough)