clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

'This will change lives:' New center's goal is to rehab likely repeat offenders

SALT LAKE CITY — Ray Dumas spent more time behind bars than as a free man for much of his adult life, held down by a cycle of drug addiction and crime.

Hopelessness permeated his life. In his mind, he "wasn't worth anything," he recalls.

"I didn't think I was worth it," Dumas said. "I didn't care about myself. I slept in abandoned buildings, junkyards."

That was until about 10 years ago, when on what he calls his "last chance," he was allowed to get addiction treatment from a nonprofit called First Step House — an addiction treatment organization that he says changed him.

"The counselors taught me that you can succeed. ... (that I was) worth saving," he told the Deseret News. "I started believing this."

Dumas was one of dozens who cheered Thursday as a new First Step House outpatient facility, designed to help Salt Lake County in its push to reduce inmate recidivism, formally opened at 660 S. 200 East.

The nonprofit is the winner of a bidding process to administer a county plan that has been dubbed as REACH, an acronym that stands for recovery, engagement, assessment, career and housing. The REACH program's target clientele will be men who are recently released from jail, on probation and considered at high risk for re-incarceration.

Now free from the addictions that once kept him down, Dumas is happily married, owns a home in North Salt Lake and has "two beautiful bulldogs." He is also paying it forward in his role as the urinalysis technician in charge of administering all drug testing for First Step House.

Dumas is convinced that the new space — crafted to provide myriad social and rehabilitation services to 225 men — will rescue others like him.

"This (facility) is beautiful. I've seen a lot of people work hard to get this going," Dumas said. "This will change lives ... and I'm living proof."

The operation of REACH at First Step House will be funded through private donations from several organizations: the Larry H. & Gail Miller Foundation, the Ray & Tye Noorda Foundation, Zions Bank, Ally Bank, Sorenson Impact Foundation, James Lee Sorenson Family Foundation, Northern Trust, Living Cities, Reinvestment Fund and QBE Insurance.

Under the financial model of Salt Lake County's Pay for Success initiative, the private funders of REACH will be reimbursed with residents' tax dollars only when First Step House meets specific goals with patient outcomes.

Those goals include fewer cumulative days incarcerated, a decrease in arrests, increase in employment and completion of successful addiction treatment.

About $5.75 million is set aside for First Step House to use over four years. As another prong of Salt Lake County's Pay for Success initiative, the Road Home shelter was selected to run a program called Homes Not Jail, which launched in January, and also received $5.75 million to administer it. Homes Not Jail targets individuals who show signs of chronic homelessness and provides intensive housing assistance.

Reporting success

Jeremy Keele, managing director of the Sorenson Impact Center, which is coordinating some project management as it pertains to REACH, explained that the county's reimbursement of the program's private funders is not an all-or-nothing scenario. For example, a moderately successful increase in clients' employment would result in the county dispersing some funds tied in with that objective to those organizations, though not the full amount they originally paid.

A table provided to the Deseret News by the center indicates specific benchmarks in key areas in order for the REACH Program to be considered fully successful. Those are a 35 percent reduction in clients' number of days incarcerated, 35 percent reduction in client arrests and 25 percent improvement in clients obtaining employment, all compared to a control group outside of the program.

The threshold for total success regarding addiction treatment in the program is defined as 66 percent of clients fully completing their 200 hours of required treatment, according to the table.

Independent evaluations will occur every six months to measure success in addiction treatment completion and once per year for the other metrics.

The treatment will consist of six to nine months of intense outpatient services, said Matthew Warthen, the nonprofit's clinical operations director.

Focus on recidivism

REACH-qualifying clients at First Step House are referred by Adult Probation and Parole, Warthen said. All qualifying clients will have recently been released from jail, court-ordered to complete addiction treatment and considered to be at high risk for committing another crime. However, the facility isn't accepting clients recently out of prison, Warthen said.

Amenities at the First Step House include a room where clients can interact in a relaxed social setting and play foosball, board games or watch television; a computer room for computer literacy training and preparing job resumes; a common eating area; and offices where caseworkers can assist with job interview preparation and therapists can conduct sessions. A medicine dispensary room is also included.

Clients who don't have a safe or consistent place to stay after their jail release will be provided temporary housing off-site in the Rose Park area, Warthen said.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams spoke briefly at the facility's opening ceremony, calling the unveiling an important step toward reducing recidivism at the county jail. About 74 percent of offenders who are classified as high risk ultimately return to the criminal justice system in one way or another, according to McAdams.

"That not only is a human tragedy, but it costs taxpayers a lot of money," he said.

Shawn McMillan, executive director of First Step House, told supporters Thursday the nonprofit is grateful for how increased accountability under Pay for Success will guide their operation.

"As a citizen of Salt Lake County, I know that this is a smart allotment of a limited resource," McMillan said. "I think many of these (positive outcomes for clients) are durable and long lasting."

According to Dumas, clients' treatment from First Step House is considered in many ways to be a "last chance" much like the one he himself was given. He had a simple message for any man who gets an opportunity there.

"Stay with it. Treatment is the way to life for an addict," he said. "Grab hold of it, run with it, because it's an amazing journey."