SMART program helps Florida county rehabilitate inmates | Latest Headlines

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While Sullivan County is building a new $94 million jail, it is not expected to relieve overcrowding conditions.

Sullivan County officials have said rehabilitation efforts are what is needed to solve the real problems.

In Flagler County, Florida, Daniel Engert, the chief of court and detention services at the Flagler County jail, has overseen what he calls the SMART program since 2020. The SMART acronym stands for Successful, Mental health and Addiction Recovery Treatment.

“We’re essentially a long-term care facility with a very vulnerable population because oftentimes, you know, some of your unhealthiest individuals in any county in this country are housed in your local county jail, and it’s oftentimes because they’ve had substance use disorder, they’ve had mental illness, and they haven’t received medical care,” Engert said. “If I can return individuals into the community in a healthier place, then I have made my community safer in that regard.”

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Engert has 30 years of experience running recovery programs in jails, first in Niagara Falls, New York, and now in Flagler County. He identified the two elements, aside from a financial commitment, which have allowed his program to be successful: first is an efficient screening system to identify inmates in need of assistance; second is creating a space where participants in the 12-week SMART program feel safe and welcome.

“It looks different from every other housing unit in my facility. It has easels and whiteboards, and it has chairs that aren’t drilled to the ground, so they can put them in circles, so they can have their group therapy,” Engert said. “When you create a housing unit or a space inside the jail, that in and of itself is a good way to get inmates to want to get engaged because, let’s face it, safety and security, it’s first and foremost.”

Throughout the 12-week SMART program, the Flagler County Jail offers inmates substance abuse treatment and education opportunities. Engert emphasized that they also work together with inmates to create a long-term plan for life once they have been released, which includes three months of therapy provided by the jail.

“We are able to provide ongoing therapy with a counselor and medication if that’s part of their plan for up to three months,” Engert said.

The Flagler County Jail was awarded the National Institute for Jail Operations’ 2022 Innovation Award on Aug. 18, during the JAILCON22 Southern Region Corrections Conference in Huntsville, Alabama.

The SMART program may be in its early days, but based on the results so far, Engert believes it is making a difference in the community, and hopes to see at least one graduate from the SMART program return to Flagler County Jail as a peer recovery counselor.

“We’re seeing results that these individuals are returning into our community and a healthier place and a safer place. They’re members of our citizenry that are gainfully employed, and more importantly, they’re not committing crimes, and they’re not coming back into jail, and that it’s a win-win for the community,” Engert said.

“Ultimately, my goal always is to graduate someone, who then obtains their certification as a counselor and comes back, and we employ them as a peer counselor in our program.”



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