Trying to lead a productive life can be a daunting task for a former prisoner. For individuals with an addiction the challenges can be even greater.
The Jersey City-based New Jersey Reentry Corporation helps those returning from prison to get their life back on track by helping them with legal services, child support, health care and other issues. The organization recently added a 21st century tool to its offerings.
Earlier this month, NJRC collaborated with Boston-based DynamiCare Health, a digital platform that helps monitor and motivate people to change their use of drugs, opioids, alcohol and tobacco. The result is a mobile app that helps at-risk people keep track of their obligations and schedules.
“Seventy percent of our clients suffer from addiction and approximately 40 percent suffer from mental health challenges,” said NJRC chairman and former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey. “DynamiCare’s app encourages the client to be responsible and to change their behavior.”
Access and dignity
McGreevey said that in an age where everyone has a smart phone, the app connects NJRC’s clients and case managers to the criminal justice system.
For someone who has been in prison for a number of years – and were told what to do and when to do it – the ability to self-initiate and be on time in a responsible away has not been a part of their daily lives. The app rewards good behavior.
– James McGreevey.
NJRC clients download the app on their smart phone. They get equipment — a breathalyzer device to test for alcohol and saliva testing devices for other substances. At random times during the day, they get an alert telling them to take a test. They perform the drug or alcohol test and record it via a selfie video.
Then the team at DynamiCare reviews each video to make sure that the test was properly performed — they view results of the test to confirm that it is the right person taking the test and that they are doing it correctly.
“It’s a new way of doing substance testing that’s remote, convenient accessible and dignified. The app empowers people to perform substance tests that they can do anytime, anywhere,” said DynamiCare CEO and Co-founder Eric Gastfriend.
“We lift the burden from providers placing it into the hands of the client improving accountability while also increasing dignity,” said Gastfriend, who started the company with his father, Dr. David Gastfriend.
If a patient has a negative test, they can earn rewards on a reloadable debit card that blocks access to bars, liquor stores and cash withdrawals.
“It’s a safe way to provide funds to people who really need funds to get back on their feet. We monitor all the spending,” said Gastfriend.
The challenge of showing up
In addition, a GPS tracking feature allows clinicians, DynamiCare staff or clients to enter in the date, time and location of a doctor appointment, therapy session, AA meeting or job interview. The app reminds them when and where they have their next appointment and tracks attendance, punctuality and completion.
McGreevey said that among the great challenges of returning to society is how often the legal system requires former prisoners to show up – to court hearings, parole and probation interviews and medical and employment appointments.
“For someone who has been in prison for a number of years – and were told what to do and when to do it – the ability to self-initiate and be on time in a responsible way has not been a part of their daily lives. The app rewards good behavior,” said McGreevey.
Caitlyn Kjolhede, senior director of clinical operations and growth at DynamiCare, said that about 11
percent of incarcerated individuals who need substance treatment receive it while they are incarcerated.
“They are not dealing with the underlying issue that may have contributed to why they were incarcerated. They are high risk for relapse and overdose.”
Kjolhede noted that this population is important because it is vulnerable, stigmatized and unable to access necessary services. She said studies show that providing individuals reentering the community with management services and access to substance abuse treatment could result in a 47 percent reduction in recidivism and an enormous return on investment.
McGreevey said the alliance with DynamiCare and the app helps change clients’ behavior making them more accountable.