For inmates at the Mid-State Correctional Facility who are facing numerous addiction problems, the word best used to describe the mood on the inside, is hope. Jesse Girard is a lifelong drug user, from alcohol to PCP.
“I was getting drunk everyday, getting high almost every day to a point in time where I had no control over my life any more,” said Girard.
Opened one year ago by Gov. Chris Christie, the $28 million facility is the first licensed substance abuse treatment center in the state’s prison system. More than three-quarters of inmates are said to have addiction problems, and for many here, this is the most recent stop on an involuntary tour of the state’s correction facilities.
Rafiq Saleem has been in and out of prisons since 1975.
“I’ve been through all the institutions, Trenton State Prison, Rahway, Northern, every prison. And what I learned here about Mid-State is it actually helped me address my drug addictions,” Saleem said. “For some reason, the other prisons just concentrate on custodial sentences.”
Mid-State has 696 beds, and inmates, all men, must be classified as medium-risk with a significant addiction problem to be assigned at the facility. They also go through an evaluation by therapists and have to want treatment. The main drugs of use are alcohol, opioids, cocaine and meth.
“I believe it’s the best way, I believe, to rehabilitate people, is to keep them out of jail,” said inmate Craig Hacku.
Tracey Shimonis-Kaminski is the prison’s administrator. She has spent her entire career in New Jersey’s prison system, starting as a corrections officer.
“There’s a very positive energy that exists inside. The inmates are not simply just doing their time. The inmates are committed to their recovery, and I really sense that they are appreciative that we have opened this facility and they’re getting the treatment and attention that their substance abuse disorders really need,” Shimonis-Kaminski said.
Many of the inmates are violent offenders and drug addiction is not being used as an excuse for their behavior.
“Most people who have a substance abuse problem don’t engage in criminal activities. I want to make sure that we’re clear on that. But there is a subset, and that subset tends to be the subset that we see here because they’ve had a criminal lifestyle and a substance abuse disorder so they end up in our prison,” said Dr. Herbert Kaldany, director of Psychology and Addiction as the Department of Corrections.
One year in, state prison officials say this facility is a success just because it exists. However, more research has to be done over some time to determine if the program will be expanded.