Originating in the Chesterfield jail, the Heroin Addiction Recovery Program (HARP), has seen unprecedented success. Beginning as a men’s only program, the impact and success of HARP was so great that it was also enacted for female inmates. The program was created in response to a great need seen in the criminal justice system: only 11% of inmates with addition disorders will receive any treatment. HARP was designed to combat this statistic and it has seen an 80% reduction in men returning to jail who have completed the program. HARP is a two-phase program: phase I, which takes approximately 6 months to complete, consists of peer-to-peer recovery, skills training, professional recovery, and discharge planning. Phase II is based on an individual’s need and eligibility to participate in alternative sentencing such as work release and home incarceration. To continue their recovery, it is mandatory for the individual, if not incarcerated, to attend meetings with local NA groups. For those who remain incarcerated, the Sheriff’s Office collaborates with business partners to conduct mock interviews and financial planning services to assist in day-to-day living once released. Participants can also obtain their GED, build a resume, or obtain a certification in becoming a peer recovery coach during this phase. HARP is unique in that it does not simply take the drugs away, but rather works to educate participants and provide them the resources and skills to stay away from drugs and build a better life. Additionally, HARP works with participants to find professional aftercare services so that they can remain clean upon graduation from the program. Utilizing therapy dogs, faith programs, music therapy, and fitness programs, HARP participants are able to learn, with the help of professionals, how to cope with their stress in ways that do not involve turning to drugs. While it is still relatively new, HARP has already seen great success.


Beginning in 2016, the Chesterfield Heroin Addiction Recovery Program (HARP) has changed the way we handle addiction in the criminal justice system. HARP was created in response to an increase in heroin-related deaths in the years leading up to its creation. In 2015, opioid deaths surpassed 30,000 for the first time in recent history, and this was an increase of nearly 5,000 deaths from 2014. These deaths also show that for the first time, heroin deaths surpassed gun homicides, and in some areas like Virginia, they have even surpassed traffic fatalities. These shocking numbers prompted Sheriff Karl Leonard to take action and create a program to combat this rampant disease.

HARP began as a male-only program, but within a few short months it had already seen such great success that they expanded it to include female addicts as well. HARP is different than other recovery programs because it does not simply take away the drugs, but rather works to educate and heal addicts. It utilizes therapeutic, medical, and educational approaches to overwhelm the addict with options and tools to use that best fit their individual needs. HARP also views addiction as a disease rather than a crime to help break the stigma around accessing treatment and help. Once an individual is in the program, an advisory team is developed. Four pod advisors and two additional advisors (as nominated by the group members) insure the program runs on schedule and that the participants are engaged and supplied with the proper tools. This team meets once a week to discuss the progress of the group and any problems they may encounter along the way.

Two-phase Design

Another unique feature of HARP is its two-phase design. Phase I, which takes approximately 6 months to complete, consists of peer-to-peer recovery, skills training, professional recovery, and discharge planning. Upon completion of Phase I, a graduation ceremony is held where families and loved ones can attend to support the graduate. Graduates deliver a speech which is a part of recovery as it gets them used to speaking in public and to large groups. A guest speaker is also brought in to deliver and inspirational message. The Sheriff then awards the graduates with a certificate and a coin to carry with them to remind them of their progress and accomplishments.

Phase II is based on an individual’s needs and their eligibility to participate in alternative sentencing such as work release or home incarceration. If not incarcerated, it is mandatory for participants to attend local NA meetings. For those who remain incarcerated, the Sheriff’s office collaborates with business to conduct mock interviews and financial planning services to assist in day-to-day life upon release. Participants can also obtain their GED, build a resume, or obtain a certification to become a peer recovery coach during this phase.

Rewards and Incentives

This program keeps participants motivated and involved via HARP sobriety bracelets and rewards. Different color bracelets are handed out to indicate various points of sobriety (i.e. orange=30 days, green=60 days, etc.). Rewards such as pizza or movie nights are used to reward participants for reaching various milestones.

Living Arrangements

The physical setting of HARP is different than other traditional jail pods to ease recovery efforts. The overall essence of the living and learning areas are more of a medical ward than that of a typical jail setting. However, the safety and security needed at such a facility are maintained. For example, a 5-gallon drink cooler filled with Gatorade is maintained 24/7 to ensure those navigating withdrawal are replenishing the essential electrolytes needed. From a therapeutic and educational perspective, the HARP dorms are equipped with plastic chairs for participants to form a circle when conducting group sessions. A large whiteboard was installed as well as a DVD player to provide for educational shows. Other non-traditional items such as pens, pencils, pencil sharpeners and tape are found in the dorms as well. Motivation and encouragement are staples in recovery efforts, so the dorms can display posters, newspaper articles, photos, etc. that accomplish those goals. Finally, it is important that group leaders can work with their group members throughout the day and as both the female and male dorms incorporate at least two typical pods to accommodate their size, emergency access doors between their respective wards are left unlocked and open at all times to permit ease in keeping the group integrated versus segregated. (Men and women are kept separate).

Components of HARP

Peer-to-Peer and Professional Counseling

Arguably the most effective component of HARP is its organized peer-to-peer counseling which is provided by the McShin Foundation. McShin is Virginia’s leading non-profit committed to serving individuals and their families in their fight against substance abuse disorders. They provide recovery specialists/counselors for 3 hours every day Monday-Friday to educate and uplift participants. They also help find interim recovery housing for HARP participants upon release. Each week there are different speakers to bring a more diverse message of recovery. Such topics include parenting, relapse prevention, conflict resolution, managing urges/cravings, new ways to enjoy life, and many more. Professional counseling is also used in conjunction with peer counseling to provide the best care overall for participants. Professional counselors work to develop individual goals with the participant and create an action plan to accomplish the goal by a specified date. This professional also handles discharge planning and connects the participant with programs and treatment centers outside of the jail to utilize upon their release. Additionally, mental health services are provided to treat the underlying issues that participants face that often lead to their drug use. Treatment of mental health issues such as Depression or Bipolar Disorder are crucial in the long-term success of an individual in recovery. This unique emphasis on peer-to-peer counseling along with the guidance of a professional counselor allow participants the best chance at full recovery and sobriety.

Unique Features

The HARP program utilizes many unique features not found in other programs. Such features include music and K9 therapy, as well as faith or fitness programs. The ACE and Resilience Workshop along with Rising Strong Curriculum also provide unique benefits to participant’s recovery. The workshop focuses on enhancing and individual’s understanding of how negative experiences in their childhood have led to the adversity they experienced later in life. The workshop explains that those adversities have impacted their ability to make healthy choices. It focuses on the impact trauma has on the brain, trauma’s impact on behavior and decision-making, building resilience and positive self-identity, and building a positive community to overcome adversity and negativity. The Rising Strong Curriculum is used to provide the education and resources needed to overcome the adversity an individual has faced and move on from their negative past. It focuses on increasing awareness of feelings, strengthen compassion and boundary awareness, and developing practices for resilience and wholehearted living. These two unique programs, when used in conjunction with one another, can provide the education needed for an individual to move on from their negative past and create a positive future. In addition to these programs, HARP also hold parenting classes to help participants become better parents upon their release and hopefully break the cycle of addiction and incarceration that are seen in several of the inmate’s families. HARP also has family nights and offers family assistance as it acknowledges addiction affects everyone. They bring in families in an effort to not only begin the healing process for all those involved, but also educate them on what their loved one is going through. Additionally, the Sheriff writes personal letters on behalf of participants to the defense attorneys, Commonwealth Attorneys, probation/parole officers, and even judges to offer a snapshot of what the individuals has been doing to help themselves since being a member of HARP. This is not meant to influence these individuals, but rather is a part of the 12-step guide to recovery: making amends. Lastly, HARP focuses on community outreach and prevention. They host public events to educate the community on the topic of addiction as well as use popular media platforms such as Facebook to break down the stigma surrounding addiction. All of these unique features play a role in the success of this program.

Off the Street Participation

The HARP program allows participants who have been released to return to the jail to continue the peer-to-peer sessions. With the lack of recovery programs on the outside and knowing that these participants want to continue their recovery, the program allows them to ren-enter the jail at any time to maintain their work with the program. Additionally, in certain cases, the program has opened its doors to addicts who have not yet been arrested but wish to end their addiction. They have been permitted to join in on a limited number of counseling sessions. The Sheriff’s Office has an average of 20 released participants reporting daily to the facility to partake in peer recovery sessions. While this helps the participants maintain their sobriety, it does pose a security issue. To mitigate this, the Sheriff searches everyone coming into the jail for HARP and conducts on-scene random drug testing. This unique feature shows the great success and impact of the program: it is so successful that people are voluntarily returning to jail to continue their progress.

Tracking Success

Because HARP is still relatively young, it is hard to track long-term success. However, initial measures of success, as tracked through recidivism rates, indicate the program is effective. Below is a table highlighting recidivism rates between HARP participants, Chesterfield drug court, and the statewide drug court.


Sample Schedule


Further reading