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October 24, 2018

ACTION Coalition seeks continued funding for in-jail MRT program.

ACTION Director
ACTION Coalition Executive Director Trish Burchette
presented the Johnson County Commissioners with a program update and proposed contract for the MRT Program the group leads at the county jail. Photo by Marlana Ward.

By Marlana Ward
Freelance Writer

The Johnson County ACTION Coalition recently presented county commissioners an update on a program they help facilitate in the local county jail and to ask for an official contract so that their work might continue as the Johnson County Commissioners met on October 18. Trish Burchette, ACTION Coalition Executive Director, handed out information regarding the Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT) Program and gave an overview of the program’s work since its inception locally in 2018. Burchette explained the need for additional members of the coalition to be trained to assist if needed and for an official contract signed for the program to continue to be funded by the county. The proposed contract given to commissioners for review included the rate of $20 per hour for a trained instructor from the ACTION Coalition to lead each class as well as resource material costs.

Commissioner Jerry Gentry expressed that he felt the proposed contract was too vague and open-ended. He asked for more detailed information about how many classes were held each week and how many hours each class required.

“We try to not have more than eight or nine people in each class,” Burchette explained. “Each class is about one-and-a-half hours long, and the amount of classes needed depends on how many are enrolled. This contract would be on a yearly basis.”

Commissioner Rick Snyder asked for clarification about who was responsible for the cost of materials. Burchette answered that the workbooks cost $25, which is included on invoices billed to the county and that if a participant quits the program voluntarily, they must reimburse the county for the cost. Snyder asked County Attorney Perry Stout if the program’s funding was coming out of the Sheriff Department’s budget.

“It does come out of the Sheriff’s budget,” Stout answered. “The previous administration was very in favor or the program and had called Russell Robinson to ask if they had enough money in their budget to pay for the program. They were told yes, and that’s how the program was implemented.”

Snyder asked for Burchette to work with Stout on the contract so that it would better define what the county’s responsibilities were and the projected yearly costs and then present that information to the commissioners for review. The MRT program began in the Johnson County Jail in January. Since the beginning, 55 people have entered the program. 37 have left the program due to release or transfer. Of the 13 who have graduated the program, five still attend meetings to maintain sobriety and mentor others. Materials used are provided at the time of entering the program, but inmates must agree to the reimbursement of the county if they fail to complete the program.

“The program, as it is now, requires the inmate to pay for their workbook at the cost of $25,” said Burchette in an interview. “This has caused the inmates to invest in their recovery resulting in filtering out those inmates who want in the class to just get out of their pod.”

Participants in the program are led through a 12-step program that can change the way they look at addiction and its effects on their families.

“If the participants do the reading and take the steps seriously then you can see participants begin to change their attitudes about their drug use and how it has affected their lives and their family’s lives,” Burchette shared. “As they begin to take responsibility for their actions, their behavior will begin to change, and you can see them grow as a person.”

The MRT class also helps individuals process traumas that may have contributed to the path their life has taken, and their problems with addiction as Burchette explained: “For example, A sexual assault that wasn’t dealt with appropriately may have led to their downward spiral of drug use resulting in their incarceration. By being in the MRT class, the steps help them come to grips with those underlying issues such as trauma or death, and until they deal with some of these issues, they cannot progress in their recovery. If an inmate needs further help with counseling, A.C.T.I.O.N informs the jail administration.”

Vital to the program’s success is its relationship with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department.

“Former Sheriff Mike Reece was very supportive of the program, and current Sheriff Eddie Tester is very supportive of the program as well,” Burchette stated. “We are very appreciative of the Jail Staff; to support and fulfill certain needs while the program is going on.”

While the program currently offers its classes at the county jail for inmates, Burchette sees the potential for growth in the county and its impact in the community: “We would like to see this program expanding into the community
of Johnson County. There are so many who could do this program and change their life before they end up in jail.”