Capping a Habit

From Boise detox to 270 days of therapy in the pen, recovery options grow


There are no locks on the doors, but checking into the sobering station at Allumbaugh House is only one step removed from jail.

The drab sobering station has room for up to 18 people to sleep off their trip--whether a cop has peeled them off the sidewalk on Sixth Street reeking of beer or their mom caught them tweaking in the basement and dropped them off at the emergency room. Nurses will check clients in on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, put them in scrubs and let them sleep it off on mats on the concrete floor in small group quarters resembling jail cells.

"It's us or jail," said Heidi Hart, director of behavioral health at the nonprofit Terry Reilly Health Services, which manages the newly opened Allumbaugh House. "You can stay here, sober up and get out. There, you get to sober up and go see the judge."

Many will walk out in the morning. A few, who exhibit withdrawal symptoms, may transfer to the other side of the building, where up to a dozen people (until funding allows for more) will spend three to five days getting the drugs out of their system in a controlled environment, the first step of kicking a habit.

This publicly funded detoxification center in Boise is one of several new Idaho programs meant to divert people with substance abuse problems from the penitentiary.

"What we're trying to do is be an earlier intervention for some folks," said Hart.

A later intervention opens in July, when the Idaho Department of Correction will populate the 432-bed Correctional Alternative Placement Program, a 90-day recovery program for low-risk inmates whom a judge agrees are likely to respond to intensive treatment. And in the fall, judges will have the option of sending convicts to an even more intensive 270-day therapeutic community located within existing state prisons rather than putting them away for years at a time.

"I can't tell you how many years ... district judges have long advocated for this, and to see it coming on board in July is very exciting," said Patricia Tobias, administrative director of the Idaho Supreme Court.

The CAPP building has the cold feel of a brand spanking new prison--four concrete, block and steel barracks surround a central guard station. But down the hallway are classrooms where inmates will spend eight hours a day in recovery programming.

"This just isn't the place to lay on your bunk all day," said CAPP Warden Brian Finn. Finn works for Centerville, Utah-based Management and Training Corporation--the third largest private prison contractor in the United States--which built the facility south of the state prison complex on Pleasant Valley Road and will operate the program.

"We really have a philosophy at IDOC that we're trying to treat the whole person, as well as substance-abuse issues," said Shane Evans, acting chief of education and treatment for IDOC, which determined much of the curriculum at CAPP.

CAPP, along with the retained jurisdiction powers for judges that the Legislature expanded this year, supplement the growing Drug Court system in Idaho, which places even lower risk offenders in treatment programs in the community under the supervision of a judge. Drug Court served 1,400 offenders in fiscal year 2009, while nearly 5,000 felons were placed in community-based drug and alcohol treatment programs after, or instead of, a prison sentence, according to the Idaho Office of Drug Policy.

Still, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, which controls the bulk of state and federal recovery funds, denied treatment services last year to 2,000 to 3,000 offenders who qualified and were on a waiting list, said Bethany Gadzinski, DHW bureau chief for substance abuse.

"It all comes down to money," Gadzinski said. "The services are there, the money is not."

While Health and Welfare funds drug rehab services, including residential treatment, for inmates as they leave prison and for vulnerable populations including juveniles and pregnant women through Medicaid, Allumbaugh House's detox and referrals will help those who don't meet those criteria, including people who can't afford private insurance, Gadzinski said.

But a typical stay at Allumbaugh House is only three to five days, and though the staff will try to connect patients with other services--some 12-step recovery programs may soon meet at the facility--there is still a question of how to pay, especially for the uninsured.

"Money is an issue," echoed Terry Reilly's Hart. "There is not enough state funding."

Recent state cuts to mental-health services are more drastic than those for drug and alcohol treatment. DHW's mental-health budget helps fund Allumbaugh House and Hart expects to pick up some of the mental-health business that the state has cut in recent months.

But police and doctors in the Treasure Valley have long seen the need for a detox center like Allumbaugh House--in addition to DHW, Ada County, Boise, Meridian, St. Al's and St. Luke's hospitals and United Way help fund the program. Of the four people scheduled to check in on the center's first day, May 3, two were transfers from emergency rooms.

The City of Boise is in early discussions to build a transitional housing complex on the same lot as Allumbaugh that would include recovery programs, according to Jim Birdsall, Boise Housing and Community Development manager.

Allumbaugh House will also work with service providers to ensure there is a place for patients to go when they leave, Birdsall said.

"I know it's the goal of this project to build that continuity in the network, we're a community that has some work to do there," he said. "The idea is to not just lose track of folks, to keep them in the stream, in the network."