MARINETTE—A Marinette County counselor says some people are so stuck in their ways that the only safe structure they know is what they find inside the county jail.
“A lot of the people that I work with, that aren’t on the (Marinette County) drug court, will tell me, ‘I feel safe in jail, I feel comfortable in jail because that’s the only structure I’ve ever had,’” Ivy Sutek told the Marinette County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee (CJCC) Friday morning. “They tell me they don’t mind going back to jail. And that’s sad.”
Sutek, a substance abuse counselor with the Libertas Treatment Center and a board member of the Marinette County Group Home Association, said people who think that way need some direction. She attended Friday’s meeting to inform the CJCC about the Group Hope Association’s Biehl Bridges to Recovery Center that will be opening in the future across from the old hospital at 3123 Shore Drive (the former North Reach building).
Marinette businessman and entrepreneur Mike Biehl donated the building to the association and it will be named in his honor.
“This program is designed to give those people a new structure ... get them pointed in the right direction,” Sutek said. “To prioritize their treatment first and their mental health first and then work into getting a job, re-establishing healthy relationship with their family members, getting visitation with their kids.”
Sutek, who has been a volunteer with the Group Home Association since 2017, said she started the Bridges to Recovery program and the idea came to her more than 10 years ago when she was a foster parent.
“I saw that cycle of family addiction, parents going to jail and not being able to take care of their kids,” she said. “Lots of broken hearts and lots of stress on the community to support these kids that were struggling.”
Sutek explained that after she got her degree and started working as a counselor, she noticed that people coming out of jail were not successful because of their lack of stable housing. She said many have no place to stay so they did “couch surfing” with people in their lives who are negative influences.
Sutek said those involved with Bridges to Recovery have experience running both the Taylor House and the Anthony House, which works with Drug Court participants when they leave the program.
The Bridges to Recovery program is designed to be six to nine months, Sutek said, adding that it includes housing, case management and 24/7 care support.
“We would like to stick with what we do best, which is housing and some support services,” she said. “We will contract with community agencies to do what they do best, which is the treatment part for both addiction and mental health.”
She said they will work closely with primary care doctors and psychiatrists.
Sutek said program organizers got help from The Fletcher Group, a national organization based in London, Kentucky, that provides technical assistance to rural communities with recovery housing for those with addiction. The program has really been a success in Kentucky because the state has invested in it, Sutek said.
“I would love to see that happen in the State of Wisconsin,” she said. “I’ve been trying to work with legislators with our recovery residence initiative. I know it’s going to take some time.”
Sutek said this program ties in with the CJCC’s goal of trying to find ways to keep people out of jail.
“We want to establish that whole life recovery piece of not just keeping people out of jail but reconnecting them with the community in healthy ways,” she said.
Sheriff Jerry Sauve asked if there is a waiting list for the program. Sutek said it’s too early for that. She said they hope to have a capacity of 34 beds with about 50% of those beds under contract.
“It all comes down to money—the financials—and getting the community on board with this,” Sutek said.
CJCC member Chad Poverski of Marinette County Probation and Parole said people in Madison are interested in a model like the one planned.
“I think it takes time and there’s a lot of red tape to get something like this going statewide,” he said.
Poverski asked if there are certain clients the program won’t take in? Sutek said the clients will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Responding to another question, she said clients from other counties may be accepted, but details are still being discussed.
Sauve asked if a timeline has been established to get the building running. Sutek said they are hoping to get 50% of the beds under contract by the fall so renovation can begin because “without that, it’s a huge risk.”
Although she refused to lock into an opening date, Sutek said it’s imperative to get the center running. “We know that if nothing changes, nothing changes,” she said.
Following the meeting, Sutek spoke to the generosity of Mike Biehl, who donated the building. “We are calling it Biehl Bridges to Recovery to acknowledge him for his generosity and his investment in the community,” she said. “That was just amazing. Without that piece, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”