KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Tennessee Governor Bill Lee included $4.7 million in his recent budget proposal for more day reporting centers (DRC) and evidence-based programming.

The overall aim is to curb recidivism and tackle the source behind many crimes committed across the state: addiction. We explored the current effectiveness of DRCs and the programming they offer.

Here’s a little background: This initiative got off the ground three years ago and expanded to six centers across the state. DRCs offer judges an alternative to incarceration. They prioritize rehabilitation over punishment by offering intensive, out-patient, treatment for people battling drug addiction. The program lasts two years.

Rachel Sosna, a correctional counselor III at the Knoxville DRC, said she’s already seeing the payoff.

More than 90 former inmates have completed the program since it began in Knoxville in 2018.
Much of their programming includes group therapy, two-four times a week. Some focus areas include relapse prevention and substance abuse education. Specifically, they explore ways to understand addition and triggers behind falling back on old habits.

DRCs, and their support staff, also work to mend broken relationships that could have been interrupted as a result of the addiction.

“A lot of them have burned bridges with people they really care about, people that have been supporting them. Maybe they were dishonest with them. Maybe they stole from them and don’t have that trust with them, so when they get out of custody, they may not have a place to live or support people,” she said.

DRCs also work to secure employment, training, transportation, and housing where needed.

Sosna touted a strategy known as Moral Reconation Therapy, which essentially aims to change how a person interacts with the world around them.

“The goal of MRT is to help our participants gain an introspect on themselves and identify the role they play in society, the roles of their relationships. We’re looking at their beliefs and their attitudes. Our goal is to change some of those beliefs and attitudes.” She described MRT as the “unity of mind, body, and spirt,” and ultimately, she believes the therapy can lead to changed behaviors.

Tennessee Department of Corrections Commissioner, Tony Parker, said the evidence-based approach is the “way to go,” and offers the “best return on investment” for taxpayers.

Parker said, on average, a Tennessee inmate is 46% likely to return to jail after being released; however, an inmate that has completed a DRC is 21% likely to return.

That’s significant, he added, because those enrolled in DRCs are considered higher-risk due to their addiction. On cost, he cited figures that enrolling someone in DRC programming costs the state between $30-40 a day; whereas incarceration costs $80 per day.

He believes having this option, specifically for those with addiction issues, “focuses more on what’s driving people to our front door.”

“We need to hold people accountable for their actions,” he said. “But we need to be just as accountable in making sure, we as a community, as a state, as criminal justice decision makers, provide effective programs that help people turn their lives around. What’s the option if we don’t?”

The commissioner also said addiction is often the root cause for many crimes committed. It’s an issue, he believes, requires good programs and treatment to change.

“Coming out of that incarcerated setting, going back into the community with a drug addiction, your chances of being successful are very low without the right programming, without the right treatment options.”