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In Montana, about half of people entering prison are going in for crimes related to the drug methamphetamine. Many are repeat offenders. They're overcrowding prisons and costing Montana millions in budget over-runs. So the state is trying something new - rehabilitation instead of prison. From Montana Public Radio, Hope Stockwell reports.
HOPE STOCKWELL reporting:
From personal experience, addictions counselor Mike Rupert knows how hard it is to get clean and stay clean.
Mr. MIKE RUPERT (Addictions Counselor): Well, I know the games. I know how it feels. I know how hard it is to recover from it. I know how hard that early period is, because there's more involved than - these people have their entire lifestyle, their entire being is centered around usage.
STOCKWELL: Rupert snorted meth in his drug days nearly three decades ago, though his preferred substance was alcohol. He liked meth because it would keep him up all night so he could drink more. Now CEO of Boyd Andrew Community Services, Rupert stands in the dirt of a torn-up field on the south side of the small town of Boulder, Montana.
(Soundbite of hammering)
STOCKWELL: He walks around and watches as construction workers hammer together forms for the foundation of Boyd Andrew's new meth treatment facility. It's one of two being built in Montana.
Mr. RUPERT: I am so excited about this. This is like the pinnacle of my career to be able to put this together and pull it off.
STOCKWELL: Rupert says Montana's residential meth facilities will be the first of their kind for inmates because they're miles away from any prison. He says that physical separation is the program's strength.
Mr. RUPERT: The whole thing about doing therapy, any kind of therapy, is that the clients or the patients - whatever you want to call them - need to be honest. And sometimes honesty means compromising other people in the facility. And in a big penitentiary, there's this whole stool-pigeon ethic. And you get somebody else in here in trouble, you're in trouble.
STOCKWELL: The honesty in the treatment, that's admitting if you're using and where you're getting it from, or…
Mr. RUPERT: Or admitting you're stealing, or admitting you're having sex, or admitting somebody's trying to beat you up, or whatever it is needs to be dealt with. And in a correctional facility, that's difficult to do.
STOCKWELL: Besides providing a safer environment, Rupert says the new treatment will also be longer - at least nine months instead of the current two - and more focused on correcting behavior. Methamphetamine addicts exhibit some of the most violent behavior and worst psychological problems because of the way the drug affects the brain's chemistry. That's according to Rick Rosen, who studies meth treatment at UCLA. He hasn't reviewed Rupert's program in depth, but he says it seems to be a step in the right direction.
Mr. RICK ROSEN (Meth Treatment Researcher, UCLA): This sounds like a very positive development, and I think it's something that many of the other states may be very interested in once some data start coming in from this project.
STOCKWELL: However, Rosen says authorities can't forget that there are other kinds of substance abuse to deal with.
Mr. ROSEN: Heroine, cocaine, and the ubiquitous alcohol continue to be major problems. So the idea that this facility is focused on methamphetamine exclusively does leave some other people with other substance-use disorders with treatment that may not be quite as on point for them.
STOCKWELL: Methamphetamine tends to be a bigger problem in rural areas, and Rosen's concerned is echoed in more urban parts of the country where officials worry that meth is getting a disproportionate part of the attention these days. However, in Montana, about half of the incoming prison population has committed a meth-related crime, and about half of the prisons' inmates are also re-offenders. To Mike Ferriter, director of corrections here, that means the state's current 60-day substance-abuse programs aren't working for meth addicts.
Mr. MIKE FERRITER (Director of Corrections, Montana): It's a short-term investment, and I guess with short-term investments sometimes you get short-term results. And I think that's what we've seen.
STOCKWELL: The new freestanding meth-treatment facilities certainly are a big investment - they cost two-thirds more to operate per day per inmate than prison. But if Montana can keep meth addicts clean and out of trouble, Ferriter says the state could save millions in the long run. That would mean a lot to taxpayers, who already are shelling out an extra $11 million in prison costs this year due to overcrowding. For National Public Radio in Helena, Montana, I'm Hope Stockwell.
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