Locked out 

Cuts impact women's treatment centers, but not men's

Micki Moritz started using drugs at 10 years old. She says she smoked pot and heroin, popped pills and snorted speed, and with increased frequency as she got older. By the time she landed in jail 30 years later, the mother of two had anintravenous methamphetamine habit she couldn't shake.

"It was all day, every day," she says, "several times a day."

In April 2007, Moritz was charged with drug possession and child endangerment. Her children, now 11 and 8, were taken from her. Convicted of one felony and one misdemeanor, Moritz earned a deferred sentence and was released. She used again. That earned her a six-week stint at the Montana Chemical Dependency Center in Butte. Always stubborn, Moritz resisted the treatment.

"I came back out," she says, "and on the way home I just used."

In 2008, the Montana Department of Corrections (DOC) sent Moritz to the Elkhorn Treatment Center in Boulder. The nine-month residential facility had opened nearly one year earlier as part of an effort to stem the tide of meth addicts flooding Montana jails.

click to enlarge The Elkhorn Treatment Center in Boulder offers a nine-month program for female meth addicts. The Department of Corrections announced earlier this month that four of the facility’s 40 beds were being eliminated. - CHAD HARDER
  • Chad Harder
  • The Elkhorn Treatment Center in Boulder offers a nine-month program for female meth addicts. The Department of Corrections announced earlier this month that four of the facility’s 40 beds were being eliminated.

As the state's only residential chemical dependency program that provides long-term treatment for women, Elkhorn offered Moritz a chance to finally rebound. That's why the reformed addict, who now lives in Butte and says she's stayed clean since leaving Elkhorn in December 2008, is so vocal about budget cuts that will directly impact the facility.

The DOC announced earlier this month that four of Elkhorn's 40 beds are being eliminated. That means the current waiting list will only grow, and the facility will be forced to eliminate nearly one quarter of its clinical staff, according to Susan Carroll, Elkhorn's chief operations officer.

Elkhorn isn't the only women's treatment center experiencing the effects of a bleak state budget. Passages, a 155-bed facility in Billings that offers substance abuse treatment for female offenders, will also lose four beds. Two more beds are being cut from the Warm Springs Addictions Treatment and Change Program (WATCh) in Glendive, a felony DUI facility that primarily houses women.

No beds are being eliminated from men's treatment programs.

The cumulative cuts will save the state $365,000. DOC Director Mike Ferriter says the decision is part of an effort to shave about $6.8 million off the agency's 2011 budget, and boils down to an issue of space.

"We have bed space at the women's prison," he says. "We don't have bed space in the male side of the prison system. We felt we could manage these eight offenders in the women's prison."

Ferriter went on to explain that, although the prison doesn't offer an intensive program like Elkhorn's, it does offer treatment to inmates.

"I think we are very unique in the country, let alone the northwest, in terms of the emphasis and the length and the commitment that our taxpayers have made to meth treatment," he says.

Ferriter's rationale, however, flies in the face of why facilities like Elkhorn are created. Chandra Villanueva from the Women's Prison Association, an organization that advocates for women in the criminal justice system, says prison is simply not equipped to deal with the root causes of drug addiction.

"Prisons are not made to treat the underlying issues," she says. "They don't deal with why people go to jail."

In fact, the Women's Prison Association cites the success of facilities like Elkhorn with helping to decrease repeat offenders and female prison populations across the nation. Montana's female inmate population, for instance, decreased 1.2 percent in 2009 after more than three decades of exponential growth.

Carroll says her facility's focus on extended, in-depth treatment increases the likelihood of getting inmates out of the state's system.

"It takes a significant period of time for the brain to start healing itself," Carroll says. "And because of that, shorter-term treatments aren't always really effective. Sometimes it's difficult in shorter-term treatment to address the chemical dependency issues when you have somebody who has a mental health illness as well. And so, this really does provide opportunities to stabilize our residents."

Moritz is one example of success. She says she fought every step of the program, and, due to her struggles, graduated a month late. But eventually the lessons sank in.

"After I got out, it just kind of all came together, all of the tools and things that I learned," she says. "I guess the thing that is really different is that when problems arise I don't just run out and get crazy and blow up my life. I think about my choices and what I can do. And I'm able to make the right choices, which is, for me, really amazing because of where I came from and what I was doing."

Moritz says many of her peers simply never acquired the tools necessary to cope with everyday challenges. For her, there's a simple answer to the problem of drug-related crime: provide a place where addicts can get clean long term, and teach them skills to overcome roadblocks.

"I'm really thankful that there was somewhere I could learn," she says. "If they want to make budget cuts, there are other places to do it. Turn the freakin' cable off at the jail and build another treatment center."

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