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An Effective Recovery Housing Model for Both Rural and Urban Areas
By John Rees
Published: 01/31/2022

Prison cell w As Kentucky Commissioner of Corrections, I had the privilege of working with then governor Dr. Ernie Fletcher to provide alternatives to incarceration for misdemeanor and Class D felony offenders. The result was “Recovery Kentucky,” a program that’s proven remarkably effective in returning individuals with a substance use disorder and others to the community as productive members of society.

It began when Governor Fletcher asked me to meet with community members to hear their ideas regarding the development of ten drug treatment facilities, several to be situated in rural areas. Construction of the buildings was to be funded through a blended funding model (explained later in this article) with day-to-day operating costs covered through contracts with corrections departments.

We were soon able to build ten 100-bed centers, a number that’s since grown to 18 (nine for women and nine for men). In 2019, Dr. Fletcher launched the non-profit Fletcher Group which later gained HRSA funding to establish the Fletcher Group Rural Center Of Excellence. The RCOE’s Subject Matter Experts and Outreach and Engagement specialists are now at work extending the housing and treatment program Dr. Fletcher and I pioneered in Kentucky to rural communities across the country.

Five key elements are required to implement the program.
  1. Local Stakeholders, including one or two leaders who recognize the need for local substance use treatment and recovery housing and are well respected in the community . The stakeholders can come from private industry, churches, government agencies, or health organizations. Their job is to promote the program and prevent or mitigate “NIMBYism” (NIMBY stands for “Not In My Backyard), a reaction that might otherwise obstruct, delay or prevent a project from going forward.
  2. Initial Funding is often the greatest challenge. The Kentucky Recovery model developed a unique blended funding model that derived funds from Low Income Housing Tax Credits, Historic Tax Credits, Community Development Block Grants, Federal Home Loan Bank Affordable Housing Programs, HOME Investment Partnership Programs, Housing Trust Funds (either state or national), construction loans, permanent loans, fund-raising, and owner contributions or equity funding. Taken together, one or more of these funding sources have been utilized in building 14 of the Recovery Kentucky centers.
  3. A Formal Organization to operate the facility. This can evolve from that of an existing treatment provider or from a non-profit created by local stakeholders.
  4. Corrections Diversion to fund day-to-day operating costs. In Kentucky, the Department of Corrections agreed early on to use the centers both to divert individuals who had been incarcerated for using drugs and to assist their re-entry into society. (The per diem cost was less than half of state expenditures for incarceration.) Up to 50 beds at each of the first ten Recovery Kentucky facilities were funded this way. In addition, the centers obtained project-based Section-8 housing vouchers as well as SNAP benefits. The various funding streams provide sufficient operating revenue without the need for additional funding.
  5. The fifth crucial element is a reputable Research Partner—often a local college, university or research entity. The ability to accurately monitor and document the effectiveness of the program provides the data needed to justify continued funding while facilitating continued improvement.
The beauty of the Recovery Kentucky model is two-fold: It works well in both urban and rural areas and is also fairly easy to achieve, provided it has the backing of the local community.

As Criminal Justice Specialist for the Fletcher Group Rural Center Of Excellence, I’m in a position to arrange support at no cost for any rural community in need of the evidence-based Technical Assistance we provide. I know from experience that doing so can dramatically improve a Corrections Department’s re-entry services, allowing departments to serve more clients and improve outcomes while developing positive, meaningful relationships with members of the local community.

John Rees can be reached by emailing mday@fletchergroup.org or visiting the Fletcher Group website at https://www.fletchergroup.org.

John Rees, the Fletcher Group’s Criminal Justice Specialist, formerly served as Kentucky’s Commissioner of Corrections where he worked with recovery centers to provide alternatives to incarceration for misdemeanor and Class D felony offenders. He has also served as Vice President of Business Development at the Corrections Corporation of America and as a Director, Facility Administrator or Consultant in numerous states including Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, New Mexico, and Florida. He has also published several articles such as Establishing Partnerships Between Correctional Agencies and University Researchers to Enhance Substance Abuse Treatment Initiatives and is the author of the book, My Life: John D. Rees's Four-Decade Career in Corrections. In 2013, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame at Florida State University’s School of Criminology.


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