Monday, February 28, 2011

"Do you know Sarah Johnson?" DPA Social Worker profiled by The Morehead News

Addiction costs state millions of dollars - The Morehead News

If you talk to the district and circuit court judges, the commonwealth or county attorney or the jailer about treatment options for addicts, they’ll invariably all ask the same question: “Do you know Sarah Johnson?”

    Her name has become synonymous with genuine, and professional, advocacy for people in legal trouble because of crimes committed in addiction.

    The master clinical social worker at the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy—the public defender’s office—is well known for thorough and personalized work to find treatment options for indigent clients.

    The DPA social worker program came about as a means to lessen the taxpayer burden of overcrowded prisons and jails, according to an agency report. Johnson is one of 12 social workers throughout the Commonwealth that work in the DPA offices to assess and refer clients to appropriate treatment options.

    “Our role is to work as an agent of the attorney to assess cases where there’s apparent mental health and substance abuse and when the attorney feels a person would benefit more from treatment than incarceration,” Johnson said.

    According to a 2008 report, the social worker program has proven cost-savings. Kentucky saved $3.25 for every $1 invested in the social workers’ salaries.

    More than 10,000 days of incarceration were saved as social workers worked with the public defenders, prosecuting attorneys and judges to divert clients into long term residential treatment, outpatient treatment and other community treatment alternatives.

    While Johnson is concerned with the economic cost savings, she is also concerned with helping people recover their lives from addiction.

    “I really care about my clients and advocate for them to find the appropriate programs,” Johnson said.

    “My education and training has prepared me to find individualized options for people, each of whom are unique and valuable. All addicts are not the same,” she added.

    Usually, Johnson first encounters defendants when they are in jail. She goes to them and conducts an assessment and works with them to identify the most appropriate options for resolving legal problems and for helping them move into recovery.

    She then works with the public defender, the prosecuting attorney and the judge to recommend the best options. Oftentimes, residential or outpatient treatment is recommended for defendants with drug-related offenses.

    Johnson said she doesn’t stop at the recommendation, however.

    “I help our clients through the process. I don’t set treatment up for people. I give them options and work with them to make a good decision,” she said.

    “If they are comfortable with me talking to families, I do. There are many needs beyond just getting a person into treatment,” she added.

    Johnson said the success of the DPA social worker program goes far beyond reducing the jail and prison population.

    “My clients are people who suffer from addiction and because they suffer they committed a criminal offense.

    “If we invest in them and allow them to make something of themselves, I believe they can,” she said.