Three hundred inmates with a history of substance abuse will soon be connected with resources and treatment to help them transition back to life in New Haven, thanks to a new collaboration between professors at the Yale School of Medicine and state agencies.

The program, called “Living Free,” offers comprehensive addiction treatment, health care and peer mentors through an integrated care model. Beginning this January, Living Free aims to tackle recidivism with the help of a three-year grant worth $1.2 million from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in conjunction with the Connecticut Department of Correction and Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. The upcoming program stands out as a support system available to inmates while they are still incarcerated and are awaiting release.

“What’s unique about this program is that we’re trying to connect with people and begin the treatment process before they’re released from incarceration,” said Lindsay Oberleitner, associate director of the Forensic Drug Division Clinic of the Connecticut Mental Health Center in New Haven, the primary location of the program. “[That is] not standard of care for addiction treatment.”

A Jan. 26 press release reports that Living Free’s combined approach will be particularly impactful for inmates who struggled with substance use. Roughly 68 percent of addicted offenders are arrested within three years of release from incarceration.

Psychiatry professor and ForDD Clinic Director Sherry McKee, who will lead the program, said approximately 80 percent of any population of incarcerated individuals has drug addiction issues.

“The idea [of the program] is to support people as they’re coming out of incarceration with addiction treatment, mental health treatment, physical health treatment and to provide peer mentorship as an integrated system of care and to facilitate successful re-entry back into their communities,” McKee said, adding that it is particularly important to treat aspects of both physical health and addiction given the proven link between poor health and likelihood of suffering from addiction.

Living Free will also partner with the state Department of Corrections to identify patients who qualify for the program, said Kathleen Maurer, director of health and addiction services at the Connecticut DOC. These individuals, who are culled from a database that identifies addicted offenders slated to return to New Haven in the next six months to a year, must agree to take part in the program before receiving a clinical assessment.

The program leaders hope to show that an integrated model of care can significantly decrease recidivism in a cost-effective manner. In Connecticut, incarcerating one prisoner costs $52,000 per year, according to Kimberly Guy, research assistant and engagement specialist at the Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health. This cost, however, does not include the less tangible social cost of incarceration and recidivism, said Chyrell Bellamy, professor of psychiatry and director of peer services and research for the Yale Program for Recovery & Community Health.

“When you’re looking at a cost-benefit analysis, you’re also not just talking about a cost related to that $50,000 that you’re saving there,” she said. “You’re also talking about the cost of people’s daily lives — they’re losing connection with their families, their children, with society as a whole.”

Bellamy said Living Free can help cut costs and limit the toll that addiction takes on inmates and the prison system at large.

If successful, future steps would include providing this model to other communities who want to improve their offender re-entry care, McKee said.

Ultimately, the program aims to meaningfully improve health and reintegration outcomes for both inmates and their communities.

“My hope is that when people are able to grasp onto recovery … programs like this can have an impact on generations,” Bellamy said.