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Oversight Committee on Regional Jails hears updates on staffing, medication-assisted treatment options for inmates

West Virginia Press Association Staff Report

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority, on Tuesday, heard a presentation regarding medication-assisted treatment and behavioral interventions in prisons, and their effects on reducing recidivism. 

Joining the meeting via Microsoft Teams to deliver the presentation was Dr. Meredith Smith, director of Clinical Services with PSIMED Corrections.

“We oversee the mental health and behavioral healthcare in the jails, prisons, and juvenile facilities (in West Virginia),” Smith began. “Medication-assisted treatments are considered the first line of defense for opiate use disorders. Behavioral intervention, interventions within the community, and relapse prevention often are seen as adjunctive, and to enhance the medication-assisted treatments.”

According to Smith, the most commonly used medication-assisted treatments within the correctional system include buprenorphine and naloxone. 

“We do know this works in prisons,” Smith said. “Individuals incarcerated are more likely to stay in treatment after they receive buprenorphine. They are less likely to die by overdose, and they are also more likely to report fewer injection uses of opiates.”

“The other one that can be used is methadone,” Smith continued. “This is one of the oldest medications out there. Typically we don’t use this one in the prisons because it does have some diversion risks, as well as some risks for developing tolerance and overdoses. But it is a very effective medication.”

Methadone, Smith noted, is a schedule II narcotic, which requires significantly higher monitoring. 

“If someone comes into the system on methadone, we do maintain them,” Smith said. “We don’t want to kick them into withdrawal or stop a treatment that’s working. But typically we don’t initiate methadone within the correctional environment.” 

At the conclusion of Smith’s presentation, Committee Chair. Del. David Kelly, R-Tyler, asked, “Do you know what percentage of folks in the prison system are part of the program – who are being treated by one of these medications?”

“[From January through April 2024] We had 809 patients come into the system on medication-assisted treatment and were continued,” Smith replied. “Then about 4,800 that have come and been assessed. I don’t know the percentages of those who have refused it.”

Kelly then asked if Medicaid covers Subutex, to which Smith replied that it does. 

Also in attendance Tuesday was Commissioner William Marshall, with the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, to provide an update of the goings-on within the department. 

“We have some outstanding work being done within our division, and it makes me proud to see all the plans coming together,” Marshall said. “We all know that hope is not a strategy, so we’ve been putting a lot of proactive strategies together and getting a lot of things accomplished.”

“Since the new year, I’ve hired a new deputy commissioner,” Marshall continued. “I’ve hired a new chief of staff, and I’ve also hired a communications director to help us with our media and recruiting.”

In addition, Marshall noted, the division has also hired a new general counsel. 

“All of those individuals have made things a whole lot easier for me,” Marshall added. “When you’ve got more eyes and ideas, it makes everything a lot smoother.”

“I’m also very proud to announce that as of May 10, we have relieved the National Guard,” Marshall noted. “We have no National Guard working for us. It’s bittersweet because they’re fantastic and they did an amazing job. I’m also proud to announce that we’ve hired about 30 of those individuals to be full-time officers.”

According to Marshall, 238 correctional employees have graduated from the academy since the beginning of 2024.

“That’s a really great number,” Marshall said. “Our uniform vacancies are down to 12%.”

The Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority will next meet during the summer Interim Session, scheduled for August 11 through 13. 

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