Tablets Could Help Former Inmates Struggling with Addiction

Access to recovery resources could be streamlined through a New Hampshire pilot program that gives Internet-connected technology to former inmates grappling with substance abuse disorders.

by Liona Engel-Smith, The Keene Sentinel / January 14, 2019
Shutterstock/Bloomicon

(TNS) — A peer support agency in Cheshire County, N.H., is participating in a pilot program that will connect former inmates who have substance use disorders to recovery resources using Internet-enabled tablets.

The program, managed by Harbor Homes in Nashua, includes the Serenity Center in Keene, as well as two other agencies in Littleton and Dover, said Cheryle Pacapelli of Harbor Homes, who oversees the project. The three-year pilot aims to serve about 100 people per year between the three sites, she added.

Participants will receive a tablet to use for as long as they remain in the program, Pacapelli said, and will have 24/7 access to video conference peer support, so they can check in with a recovery coach regularly even if they can’t make it to a recovery center.

Jocelyn Goldblatt, executive director of the Serenity Center, said the program could potentially benefit a large subset of the center’s members, many of whom have been incarcerated at some point.

When face-to-face meetings aren’t possible, regular video chats with a recovery coach can be a good option for people who live outside Keene and have no way to get to the Serenity Center, she added.

For now, Goldblatt said, people can sign up to receive regular check-in calls from a recovery coach, a popular service. Video conference, she said, could be another tool to keep in touch with people through their recovery.

The Serenity Center serves people who are seeking recovery from alcohol and substance misuse through one-on-one and group support.

Funds for the $897,079 initiative come from federal grants from the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The N.H. Department of Justice is disbursing the funds to Harbor Homes, according to information on the agenda for the N.H. Executive Council’s Jan. 9 meeting, when the council approved the grant.

Connecting people to services via technology isn’t a new idea, Pacapelli noted, but she said the project will be the first time a telemedicine-like platform is used to deliver peer support to people with substance use disorders in New Hampshire. She said access to services is particularly challenging in rural parts of the state, and the challenge is magnified for those who are released from a correctional facility.

“The population that we will be serving typically don’t have access to a smartphone or high-speed Internet or anything, so if we wanted it to succeed, we needed to provide them with the equipment they would need to be able to be in contact every week,” she said.

The grant narrative Harbor Homes submitted to the state justice department speaks to the prevalence of the disorder among incarcerated people. According to the narrative, about 20 percent of inmates serving a sentence of a year or more across the state are there because of drug possession or sale, and the department of corrections has estimated that about 85 percent of the inmates in its care have substance use disorders.

Pacapelli said Harbor Homes and the three participating recovery centers will begin to set up the program in the coming months, which will include purchasing the tablets and installing a secure video conference system. Harbor Homes will also hire at least one person to manage the program, she said, and each of the recovery centers will likewise hire a staff member to help with the project. The goal, according to Pacapelli, is to kick off the program this summer, perhaps by June 1.

“We have high hopes,” she said.

©2019 The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.