The Salvation Army has been awarded a $2.5 million yearly contract to help the state Department of Corrections with substance abuse treatment.

"Eighty percent of our inmate population have a substance abuse disorder," said Laura Brooks, DOC's director of health and rehabilitation. "Ninety-five percent of the people incarcerated will eventually be released."

The Salvation Army's contract is focused on people currently serving time at the Hiland Mountain and Goose Creek correctional centers.

"These aren't people that get addicted after smoking marijuana once," said Salvation Army clinical manager Patrick Ventgen. "These addictions happen [over] a series of events in someone's life -- years of addiction, trauma and other difficulties. The programs we are [bringing] to them surround cognitive behavior: 'How do I change the way I think, so that I don't make the same decision again?'"

Ventgen says the first few years out of treatment are the most critical.

"Once people find continuity of care they are more likely to follow through with it," said Salvation Army Major Mike Dickinson. "Whether they are from Anchorage or Angoon, Hoonah or Haines or Homer, Juneau or Fairbanks -- we want them to know that the Salvation Army cares about their needs, and we will be there when they re-enter into their communities."

The Salvation Army is located in 18 cities across the state.

"When reunification does occur, we are setting our population, Alaskans up for success," said Andy Jones, the state's deputy incident commander for its response to the opioid epidemic. "This is truly a critical puzzle piece to building a safer Alaska."

"We want them to understand that there is a helping hand when they go home, because they will move back home, next door to you and me," Dickinson said. "We want them to be successful in that program."

The focus of the treatment is to give people hope, then make that hope grow. People who find success in the program become mentors and develop peer groups, working through cognitive behaviors to rethink how they go about their daily lives.

Alaska ranks in the top 10 U.S. states for illicit drug use. It's also one of the highest for alcohol use.

"Alcohol and drug use are correlated with criminal activity, accidental deaths, suicides and domestic violence," Brooks said.

The funding will go towards training and wages for the 16 staff, including a coordinator at each of the two prisons and 14 counselors split between them.

Dickinson said the ultimate goal is to send people home to their communities across the state knowing they have a support network available to them.

"They don't have to go back to that same system, the same friends, that same part of town," Dickinson said. "They have a choice to make, a different choice in their lives to be a successful citizen."

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