published Sunday, December 12th, 2010

Rehab program sees fewer convicts return to prison

ROCK SPRING, Ga. -- "Attention on deck!" the resident inspector yells across the dormitory cell.

Tracy Satterfield straightens his back and, along with his fellow cellmates, turns sideways in his cream-colored jumpsuit, his arms extended, as the state workers make their daily rounds.

Only 5 feet 6 inches tall, Satterfield stands out in the room on the grounds of Walker State Prison. Many of the men tower over him. But his broad shoulders still show signs of the world-class weightlifter he once was.

Satterfield is a probationer in the residential substance abuse treatment program at the prison. Like many of those in the program, his life spiraled from normal to nightmare because of drugs.

He said he started using a form of methamphetamine called "ice" to bulk up for competitions, but ended up addicted.

He and the others are there because a judge gave them an ultimatum -- go through the program as a probationer or go to prison.

"When I came in, I was just going through the motions," Satterfield said during an interview three months into the program. "But once I got involved, I started seeing this program could actually help. I want better for myself."

Georgia Department of Corrections officials hail the residential treatment programs at Walker State Prison and seven other sites for helping reduce the number of offenders who return to prison.

"The response that we receive from the offenders is that this has saved their lives," said Katrinka Glass, a corrections manager with the department's risk reduction unit.

Overall, about 27 percent of offenders commit a new felony within three years, Glass said. So far, about 22 percent of those who have been through one of the residential programs have committed subsequent felonies within three years, she said.

The 5 percent reduction is considered high because it includes probationers as well as incarcerated offenders.

The program statewide costs the Department of Corrections $5.7 million a year, Glass said. Since it costs $48 a day to keep a person in prison, the programs save money in the long run by reducing the number of those who re-offend, officials said.

Step at a time

In the Walker State Prison program, probationers agree to stay at the treatment center next to the prison for six months. They must continue with six months of rehab once released.

The probationers go through four phases that involve drills, one-on-one counseling, classes with hours of homework and group therapy, said Gene Zwaryck, program director for Spectrum, which contracts with the Department of Corrections.

"Our goal is to get them into life and attending 12-step meetings," he said, "taking an active role in their own recovery."

Those who don't make it "go from here to probation detention center for nine months and possibly go to jail," said Warren Coker, the unit manager for the center.

Satterfield once was a world-class weightlifter who opened a small gym in 2001. But a few years later he lost his business to his meth addiction. He said he manipulated the books to pay for his drug habit.

"When you exhaust all your money legally, you're going to do whatever you can to support your habit," he said.

BY THE NUMBERS

Georgia residential substance abuse programs:

* 8 programs in the state

* 1,648 beds total

* 3 programs for probationers

* 5 programs for incarcerated offenders

* 95 percent completion rate

Source: Residential Substance Abuse Treatment, Department of Corrections

His family finally reported him to police, and he was convicted on burglary and drug charges. He still feels "a little bit of resentment" toward them, he said.

Satterfield served a sentence in the county jail, then bounced in and out of probation offices and detention centers. He even went back to jail once for 60 days, he said.

Then the judge gave him that choice: treatment or jail.

"Looking back, it was kind of a blessing," he said, wiping away tears as he thought about how he let his family down.

At the center, he woke up at 5 a.m. and had five minutes to eat. He spent the day attending classes and sessions. And he started reading the Bible every day.

"I was able to start getting back into my spiritual groove with God," Satterfield said. "You've got time to find yourself again."

The day before Thanksgiving, Satterfield was handed his certificate of completion for the residential program. He spent the holiday with his wife, two sons and parents.

Now he must report weekly to meetings and keep an 8 p.m. curfew.

He and his wife plan to stay with his parents until he can get back on his financial feet, he said.

"It's going to take sometime to gain that integrity back," he said. "I just can't wait for the day five years from now [when] I can say, 'I'm still clean.'"

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/jlukachick.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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