PBS shines light on NKY repeat-offender reduction programs

Advocates for victims of substance use disorder say that Kenton County in Northern Kentucky is the Silicon Valley of recovery.

That’s a large part of why PBS NewsHour recently featured the partnership between the Kenton County Detention Center and the Life Learning Center as part of the network’s “Searching for Justice” series. Correspondent Stephanie Sy explored the innovative approach and collaboration between the two organizations and their efforts to combat substance use disorder and recidivism.

Re-entering society after incarceration is difficult. Without a plan in place for housing and employment, many individuals find themselves back in detention. 

The national recidivism rate, a person’s likelihood to return to jail, is 83%. That means eight out of 10 individuals released will return to prison. Without proper re-entry programs, the cycle of recidivism will continue.

In Kenton County, an innovative relationship between the detention center and Life Learning Center has directly reduced the recidivism rate in Northern Kentucky. It begins inside the jail. Individuals incarcerated at the detention center can apply to participate in the Jail Substance Abuse Program.

Bethany Ball is a substance abuse counselor at the Kenton County Jail in Covington. She leads a program for about 100 men and women who are getting addiction treatment while serving time.

Approximately 70% of the people incarcerated at the detention center were arrested on drug charges directly related to their substance use disorder. To qualify for JSAP, individuals must be diagnosed with substance use disorder and cannot be violent offenders or be on the sex offender registry. Once admitted into the program, members have access to resources including counseling services, recovery support and, in some cases, medically assisted treatment. There are separate programs available for men and women.

Once individuals successfully complete the JSAP, they are encouraged, and sometimes court ordered, to continue their recovery journey at the Life Learning Center. LLC, a 16-year-old Covington-based nonprofit, delivers a holistic integrated continuum of education and care facilitating transformation, long-term employment and dignity for the most at-risk citizens of the region.

Service is not limited to those who have experienced incarceration, but 95% of LLC clients in 2021 had a criminal background; 97% had a history of substance use disorder.

LLC was founded with the belief that every individual should have the opportunity to live up to their highest potential, regardless of where they are in their life journey. LLC delivers Foundations for a Better Life, a 12-week program focusing on five domains of life: physical, financial, spiritual, emotional and relational. 

PBS journalist Stephanie Sy with Alecia Webb-Edgington of Life Learning Center, who spent decades in law enforcement.

In order to complete the program and be recognized as a graduate, LLC clients must complete the 12-week education program, maintain drug-free status and obtain employment. LLC’s holistic approach directly impacts candidate outcomes and has proven a successful model for nearly 3,000 clients since 2006.

For many LLC clients, a former unwise decision, lifestyle choice, health emergency or mental health/substance use disorder diagnosis has paralyzed their family. By connecting these marginalized adults with care, education and employers amenable to transformational employment, LLC is giving them renewed hope and another chance at sustaining long-term success.

Participation in the 12-week program creates a ripple effect. By providing access to financial support and safe, sober living while individuals work to reestablish themselves, LLC supports the reconnecting of families and the reduction of substance use disorder and recidivism. Additionally, individuals possessing multiple felony convictions are securing employment, which helps promote economic growth.

Ashley Boothby is a peer support specialist at LLC. She’s 11 years removed from a heroin and opioid addiction that sent her to prison for more than a year.

According to recent studies, adults in poverty are three times more likely to be arrested than those who are not. Millions of Americans have a criminal history, frequently related to mental health/substance use disorder, which may be a barrier to employment. A study of the formerly incarcerated found that employment was the most important factor in decreasing recidivism.

The detention center and LLC recognize the correlations and used these insights when building their partnership. As a result, in 2021, over 155 LLC clients were employed or enrolled into post-secondary education and over 800 individuals and family members from Northern Kentucky were served. Most importantly, in 2020, the recidivism rate of LLC graduates was reduced to 38%, while graduates also enrolled in JSAP through the detention center experienced a recidivism rate of 28%. This stark contrast from the national average of 83% shows the importance of the Northern Kentucky partnership and its community impact.