Breaking the Recidivism Cycle

Amanda Cove-Foster is program director of CHD’s Behavioral Health for Justice Involved Individuals (BH-JI), a program funded by MassHealth and the UMass Chan Medical School that supports people being released from the Franklin, Hampshire, and Berkshire County Jails.

In the program, launched in February of 2022, CHD community support navigators meet with prisoners before they leave jail—up to six months before they are released—to build a support plan, and follow them once they are released for three to 12 months, with the first 30 days being daily communication with visits, calls, or texts. After that period, they are visited weekly. The navigators connect participants to such services as housing, medical insurance, mental health stabilization, primary care, and substance use treatment—including Medication Assisted Treatment.

Amanda Cove-Foster is pictured on the right with Community Support Navigators Jason Perez, William Dearstyne, Amanda Pitchford, and Aaron Milewski.

The resources provided from the navigators run the gamut. “We’ve worked with individuals to help them get their driver’s licenses back,” said Cove-Foster. “For example, some of them live in the western Massachusetts hilltowns, where public transportation isn’t great, and as part of their probation or parole, they have to get drug tested, say, on a Wednesday morning, and if they can’t get there, that’s an automatic fail. That could lead to a probation or parole violation. Many of them have broken family relationships—they don’t always have family to lean on to get something as simple as a ride to an appointment.”

The navigators also help participants rebuild relationships with their families—and get them on the pathway to reunification with their children—by helping them access mental health and substance use supports, especially when they are involved with the Department of Children and Families and are required to show a period of sobriety before they can visit their kids.

“Incarcerated people can become isolated from their families, and when the time comes when they want to mend fences, the navigators also support that process by helping them write letters,” said Cove-Foster.

Studies show that released inmates who have a substance use disorder—often co-occurring with another behavioral health diagnosis—are more likely to end up back in prison if they don’t get proper treatment and access to community services. “We’re seeing a lot of people with untreated substance use and mental health disorders,” she said. “When they’re coming out of jail, the most common thing we hear is, ‘All my adult life, nobody’s ever offered any type of service like this to me.’”

Since its start, BH-JI has received 186 referrals, and the program’s four navigators typically engage with 45-60 individuals at a time. “We’re even able to support people in the community who haven’t ever been to jail, but have been involved in the criminal justice system,” said Cove-Foster. “So we’re coming at it from the preventative side as well.”

Similar re-entry initiatives across the country have been shown to reduce recidivism. “That’s why we’re seeing more of these programs pop up,” she said.