LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A surge in drug use and drug arrests has forced Kentucky to make adjustments to its prison system.
Starting in 2016, Kentucky added Medically Assisted Treatment, or MAT, to prisons, joining Rhode Island as the only states to have the program, which helps offenders deal with addiction. MAT is the newest part of a larger ongoing substance abuse program or SAP.
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"People come to prison a lot because of substance abuse," said Kevin Pangburn, the architect behind the program. "We just taught people how to be better inmates and sometimes better criminals."
For Lorenzo Tooley, an inmate at Roederer Correctional Complex, the program was a second chance.
"I got revoked on a dirty urine," Tooley said, explaining why he was back behind bars after a drug trafficking charge. "You go in, you do your time, you get out and you do the same thing."
This time, Tooley signed up for SAP, which includes a 12-step program along with classes preparing for life beyond bars, and MAT to help control his addiction. He's already graduated the program and serves as a senior mentor to other inmates.
"I thought if I'm going to change then that probably would be a start," Tooley said. "I would think I'd get out and do something wrong and that's just me. I didn't think I could actually take a step forward and actually be something."
The MAT program has now become a model for departments across the nation with multiple states coming to review how it works.
"Began to look around for who else was doing this and there just wasn't anybody," Pangburn said.
A yearly study from the University of Kentucky says 71 percent of the people who make it through SAP stay out of the system. That's about the same as the general population.
"People don't come to treatment because they see the light," Pangburn said. "People come to treatment because they feel the heat."
Tooley gets 90 days off his sentence for taking part in SAP. His regret is that he didn't start the program sooner.
"Like myself, as being on drugs for 20 something years. It's actually probably something that I should've done a long time ago," Tooley said. "It really gives me the sense that this is what I'm here for."
Tooley hopes to be out of prison in December.
Statewide, about 3,600 offenders are taking part in SAP.
Because MAT, the medically assisted treatment portion of SAP, is so new, there isn't a study yet on how many avoid coming back to prison.