New mental health program helps Boone County inmates with recovery

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BOONE COUNTY, Ind. – Focusing on mental health to help cut down on crime is the goal of a new program for inmates in Boone County.

The mental health program began six months ago and is already proving successful, according to Boone County Sheriff Mike Nielsen. Right now, there are more than 20 inmates on the waiting list.

For inmate Heather Akers, the Boone County Jail is a familiar place. She was incarcerated there four years ago. She continues to battle with drug addiction. This time, though, things look a lot different.

"This is the first time I've been to this jail where they've had this many programs for anyone," Akers said.

Now, she's receiving one-on-one counseling for her addiction. The programs for mental health and addiction recovery are available 24/7. On average, recovery coaches see seven inmates each day.

The programs are two-fold. Inmates receive counseling while incarcerated and participate in programs focusing on food, diet, psychological help, and group therapy. Quality Correction Care provides the institutional programs. They cost the county about $130,000 each year.

When they leave jail, the services don't end. InWell provides community mental health via a grant from Recovery Works.

"They’re already signed up for HIP 2.0. They’re already signed up for recovery works, so they don’t have to worry about the financial piece of it. They already got the relationship with the mental health provider on the outside of the facility. They’ve already got doctor’s appointments set up," explained Sheriff Mike Nielsen.

Sheriff Nielsen said his goal is to have recidivism reduced by 18 percent next year.

"That prevents them from either coming back to my facility or going back into the same facility, overdosing, and dying," Sheriff Nielsen said.

Also just introduced recently, a program to support mental health for officers. The officer wellness program was introduced just before the death of Deputy Jacob Pickett. Since Deputy Pickett's death nearly four weeks ago, Sheriff Nielsen said many officers have continued to struggle.

"Making sure that our officers have everything that they need as well to continue on. We draw strength from Jake every single day and his warrior spirit that he had and it's not going to slow us down to the point where we’re going to give up. We’re just going to keep on and keep fighting for that thin blue line," Sheriff Nielsen said. "We've seen a lot of positives come out of our tragedies over the last month and I think we will continue to see those positives, but it's going to take a long time to recover and a lot of us truly may never recover."

The officer wellness program is available for all county employees including jail staff, deputies, and 911 officers who need mental help or are dealing with grief.

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