Barnstable County Sheriff’s first pre-trial inmate accepted into jail’s top program

BOURNE – Fulfilling a campaign promise made 7½ months ago at his swearing-in, Barnstable County Sheriff James M. Cummings has announced that
his first-ever pre-trial detainee has been assigned to the jail’s RSAT housing unit, previously available only to sentenced inmates. The program assignment began two weeks ago.

RSAT, which stands for Residential Substance Abuse Treatment, has garnered national recognition at the Sheriff’s facility in Bourne, one of only six jail sites accorded mentor status by the US Justice Department (DOJ).

Last year at this time treatment specialists from Tennessee and another group that included Alaska and American Samoa toured the unit and witnessed what the Sheriff’s staff has done with RSAT. The program was also the subject of a high-quality training film, paid for by DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. The inmate, Christopher Arms, 36, of Harwich, has been awaiting trial at the correctional facility since mid-May, shortly after he’s alleged to have smashed his father’s Jeep into a sign and careened off road at a lower Cape intersection. He is charged with third offense OUI and a trial date is still to be established.

“I’ve learned more in a week here (in the RSAT program),” says Arms, “than I did my first two months awaiting trial in pre-trial pods [housing units]. What I got there was inmates talking about where they’ll get their next drink and where they’ll get their next high. Not the education I need right now. For the first time, I’m actually learning about addiction.”

Sheriff Cummings has made earlier attempts to educate pre-trial detainees and they remain ongoing. More than 30 have earned high-school equivalency diplomas and two members of his treatment staff go into the pre-trial section of the jail twice weekly to offer instruction on addiction and related issues. Still, introducing them onto the same housing unit with sentenced inmates, as with Arms, is “a great leap forward for us,” says the Sheriff.

Not extending programs to pre-trial detainees, the Sheriff reminded attendees at his January swearing-in, can mean losing what could potentially be a teachable moment.

“He,” the Sheriff said, referring to an abstract inmate, “walks out the door as ill-equipped to face down his addiction as when he arrives. It’s short-sighted.”

RSAT normally takes six months to complete, so pre-trial inmates like Arms will continue to be chosen with their likely length of stay in mind. His OUI probably won’t go to trial until he has approximately four months already served. The program normally has room for up to 60 participating inmates and at times has been close to that. It includes education and treatment segments and emphasizes quasi-military discipline, the acceptance of responsibility, and peer-group interaction. The jail itself opened in 2004. It was accredited by the American Correctional Association in 2010 and has been re-accredited twice since then (2013 and 2016). Sheriff Cummings was beginning his fourth term in January, when he made those remarks.
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