CNCounty News

Social worker program helps inmates with mental health, opioid use disorders

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Key Takeaways

From 2014 to 2017, the incarceration rate within Pitt County, N.C. (331.3 per 100,000 population) was higher than the incarceration rate in the state of North Carolina (276.7) and region (232.6). 

When Paula Dance was elected sheriff of Pitt County in 2018, one of her goals was to reduce recidivism, provide education and provide treatment for individuals. Dance is Pitt County’s first African American sheriff and the state’s first female African American sheriff.

Programs launch in 2019

She launched several programs in July 2019 to meet her goals: Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) within the Sheriff's Heroin Addiction Recovery Program (SHARP), and the Women's Empowerment and Recovery Program (WEAR) within the Pitt County Detention Center. 

The focus of the SHARP program is mental health, substance use and co-occurring disorder. The program offers tools for long-term recovery and parenting classes. The SHARP initiative allows licensed therapists, counselors and peer support specialists to work with selected individuals who acknowledge their need for assistance in ending their substance use cycle. These individuals are also eligible for Medicated Assisted Treatment (MAT).

WEAR is designed to educate and empower women, focusing on trauma using evidence-based techniques.

The WEAR program is designed to empower incarcerated women by promoting positive thoughts and behaviors, as well as addressing substance use issues. WEAR offers treatment for substance use disorders, life skills training, education and positive thinking reinforcement. 

WEAR also utilizes licensed therapists, counselors, and peer support specialists to assist participants in recovery and general life-skills necessary to improve their lives upon release from the criminal justice system. WEAR participants may also be eligible for Medicated Assisted Treatment (MAT).

Bridging gaps between citizens, community, law enforcement

The first of their kind in North Carolina, the programs address and eliminate barriers for individuals struggling with alcohol use and substance use disorders. It also aids in bridging the gap between citizens, community resources and law enforcement. 

The programs include help from a social worker, Kiera Clemmons, who works at the Pitt County, N.C. detention center.

Clemmons’ role is to communicate with an on-site psychiatrist, perform diagnoses and direct services as well as work as a liaison between the detention center and community support services.

The number of referrals since implementing the program, according to Clemmons, who talked about the program at NACo’s Annual Conference in Adams County, Colo., were 427 for the SHARP program, 130 for the WEAR program and 337 for the Medical Assisted Treatment (MAT) program.

Community partnerships crucial to success

The programs get help from outside partners, including Pitt Community College, CareNet Counseling, East Carolina University, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous and the Greenville Art Museum.

Since the implementation of the programs, many participants have obtained the necessary coping skills, community resources, and ongoing treatment necessary to sustain long-term recovery.

To keep the program going, the county relies on grant funding, eventual county funding, continued services provided by stakeholders, sound partnerships and eliminating barriers and bridging the gaps.

Dance is committed to offering effective solutions, a seamless community reentry and referrals within an aftercare partnership for those struggling with addiction. A message on the detention center website notes that: “The process of recovery can begin at the moment of incarceration but should not have to stop the day an inmate walks out the door of the Detention Center, into the same temptations.”


Pitt County is a recipient of the Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant and Substance Abuse Program (COSSAP) grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. COSSAP grants provide counties financial and technical assistance to support individuals and families facing substance use disorders.


Justice-involved individuals often don’t have the resources to integrate into the community after leaving jail and revert to their old ways.


Hire a social worker to work at the jail who can give them the tools they need to succeed.


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