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San Quentin State Prison Celebrates National Recovery Month; Recognizes Inmates Being Trained to be Certified Drug Counselors

Certification program a first of its kind in any prison in the U.S.
SAN QUENTIN – This September marks the 18th annual National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month and San Quentin State Prison joined voices across the nation in celebrating recovery from substance abuse disorders. An event at San Quentin today highlighted the prison’s first-in-the-nation program to train and certify inmates as drug and alcohol counselors.
“Drug and alcohol abuse takes an enormous toll on human lives and is a driving force behind many of the offenses that lead to incarceration in state prison. Research shows that investing in substance abuse treatment has a real cost benefit to the public and can help to keep inmates from re-offending,” California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary James E. Tilton said. “Substance abuse treatment is fundamental to this Department’s commitment to rehabilitation.”
Above, the first class of inmate counselors graduate in a ceremony during
December 2006 at San Quentin State Prison
The September 8 celebration was targeted to general population inmates, most of whom have a history of drug and alcohol abuse, and featured speakers, music, and recovery resource information.
Inmates in the Addiction Counselors Training (ACT) program were recognized by Executive Director Rhonda Messamore and Past President Warren Daniels of the California Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (CAADAC). Begun in 2005, the ACT program trains inmates to become certified drug and alcohol counselors. It is the first and only program of its kind in any prison in the U.S.
Addiction specialists from major universities and addiction treatment centers from the Bay Area volunteered to teach the seven classroom courses and supervise the six-month practicum and 4,000-hour internship. In June 2007, nine out of the 11 ACT inmate trainees passed the rigorous written examination and are now certified alcohol and drug counselor associates, a major step along the way to being certified by CAADAC. Working under clinical supervision by experienced addiction treatment professionals, the inmate counselors provide peer counseling, case management and education services to other inmates in the Addiction Recovery Counseling (ARC) program while in custody and will receive job placement counseling and referrals for employment in the addictions treatment field when they are paroled. Established in 2006, the ARC program is also the first of its kind in any prison in the nation. The ACT and ARC programs were created and are operated by Full Circle Addiction Recovery Services, a community-based non-profit from Berkeley.
“There’s a huge credibility advantage to this program,” San Quentin State Prison Warden Robert Ayers said. “These are not people with advanced degrees and letters behind their names. These are people who’ve been there and know first-hand the challenges that must be overcome to beat an addiction.”
“The ACT program has the potential to be a great cost-saving measure. It is also a career path for the guys that we’re training,” said Thomas P. Gorham, an ACT program instructor and board member with CAADAC. “Not only will they improve their environment at San Quentin, they will go out into their local communities and meet their peers there.”
The day’s event also featured motivational speaker and comedian Mark Lundholm. In 1988, Lundholm was a resident in a halfway house recovering from substance abuse. He has appeared in 49 states and five foreign countries as an entertainer and as a motivational speaker at corporate events, correctional facilities, colleges, and at conferences for counselors, physicians and other health care professionals. His performance detailed his battles with addiction with honesty, warmth and humor.
“Drug and alcohol abuse takes its toll on our families and communities. The treatment and recovery programs at San Quentin are an excellent example of how focused, intensive treatment works to reduce recidivism,” Secretary Tilton said. “We are supportive of the prison’s emphasis on recovery and making inmates aware of the resources available to them to help them end their cycles of abuse.
Tilton noted that CDCR is expanding in-custody treatment programs statewide for 4,000 inmates. Moreover, the Public Safety and Offender Rehabilitation Services Act of 2007 directs the CDCR to expand follow-up treatment services in the community for 2,000 offenders in order to ensure that those who participate in in-custody substance abuse treatment receive necessary follow-up treatment while on parole. As space is made available from other reform efforts and overcrowding is reduced, expanded treatment services will become available.
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