Madison County took the next step Friday toward fulfilling Judge/Executive Reagan Taylor’s dream for an innovative, comprehensive attack on the substance abuse epidemic.

“Arresting and incarcerating people is not working,” Taylor said Friday afternoon in an interview with The Register.

Current alternatives to incarceration are too short-term and fragmented to be effective, the judge/executive said. “We need to try something different,” he said.

Taylor said the program he envisions would take people in the early stages of substance abuse, provide initial detox and then long-term addiction recovery. Participants would then move into vocational training and be given internships working for county agencies such as the animal shelter, solid waste and road departments.

They also would be given training in “life skills” and opportunities for transitional housing.

The program would then stay in touch with and provide help to participants for long after they have been on their own, Taylor said.

After talking to consultants and practitioners from around the country in both the public and private sectors, Deputy Judge/Executive Colleen Chaney said nothing like Taylor described exists anywhere in the country.

When they surveyed existing resources, they found many that are successful with one facet of their objective — treatment, recovery, rehabilitation, job training/placement and transitional housing — but no program combined them.

Everyone they talked to, from Arizona and California to Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., agreed Madison County was aiming at the right target, Chaney said, “But some told us we were crazy to think this can be done.”

However, some were intrigued by the proposal and want to get involved. And the county leaders hope the RFP will capture the imagination of the country’s best minds.

“We’re looking for partners, both public and private, who want to join us in creating a comprehensive approach,” Taylor said.

Admitting he lacks expertise in rehabilitation, the judge/executive said his role is to find the right people who can help the county fulfill his vision.

What he wants will not be cheap or easily attained, Taylor added.

However, arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating people is expensive, said Taylor, noting his responsibility to spend taxpayers’ money wisely.

The county’s detention center often holds nearly twice the intended number of inmates, with others housed in other counties’ facilities. Local taxpayers already contribute $3.1 million more than statutorily required each year to fund the jail and sheriff’s department.

However, the human cost in lives ruined or tragically cut short by substance abuse is even greater than the continually growing cost to the criminal justice system, Taylor said.

But even if considered only in financial terms, the program he envisions can be cost effective, he added.

Analysis by a Lexington-based economic consultant shows the concept would be cost effective even if it is successful with only 30 percent of the participants, Taylor explained.

No firm cost estimate can be made, however, until proposals have been received, he said.

The request for proposals to create a “healing center” was posted Friday on the county’s website, madisoncountyky.us, and released to publications read by the mental health and vocational education professionals.

The plan will succeed only with a public-private partnership, Taylor and Chaney both said.

Local government, in cooperation with the criminal justice system, can do things the private sector can’t, Cheney said. But the private and non-profits sectors can do many things better than government institutions.

Cooperation by local employers will be essential because the program’s goal will be to enable participants to become productive, self-supporting citizens, Taylor said. Employers’ input will be used to offer effective training in both vocational and life skills.

Proposals will be due July 7, but any entity wanting to participate must attend an April 24 meeting. A screening committee will review proposals on July 24, and potential partners will be announced Aug. 2.

The fiscal court will decide Aug. 7 whether to begin contract negotiations. The county will then enter negotiation with the best and final offer no later than Sept. 21, with contracts submitted to the fiscal court for approval on Sept. 28.

Reach Bill Robinson at 624-6608.

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