Monday, August 8, 2016

3 overdose deaths, 1 Bristol Township house, zero answers

Posted July 15, 2016

Leonard Spearing started his new sober life on Oct. 28, 2015.
Six days later, the 33-year-old Quakertown man was dead. A drug overdose killed him inside a Bristol Township house.
He was the second person to die in the house last year after a drug overdose, and the third fatal overdose there in two years, according to Bristol Township police.
Leonard Spearing looks at a photo of his late son
Both of the people who died last year at 616 Coventry Ave. were the parents of young children. Both were trying to break heroin's hold on their lives, their families said. And both families said they were told by the owner that 616 Coventry was a recovery house, a drug-free environment for substance abusers who were trying to stay sober.
The home's owner, identified in public property records as Raymond Pramov Jr., told this news organization the property wasn't a recovery house and refused further comment.
So, was it a recovery house when these residents died there last year or wasn't it? There's no way to determine for certain. That's because there is no government oversight of this fast-growing part of the housing industry, which is supposed to provide structured, drug-free housing for recovering substance abusers as they rebuild their lives after drug detoxification, treatment or prison.
Public records show Pramov applied in July 2015 to operate a recovery house at 616 Coventry Ave., but was rejected because of a zoning conflict. Township records are unclear about whether the property was already operating as a recovery house when the application was submitted.
Bucks County 911 call records obtained through a Right to Know request show that, as early as 2012, emergency operators described 616 Coventry Ave. as a recovery house when dispatching assistance to that address.

616 Coventry Ave. in Croydon as seen on Wednesday, May 11, 2016.
County property records describe 616 Coventry Ave., sometimes called Coventry Lane, as a single-family house with four bedrooms and two bathrooms. It sits on the corner of Cedar and Coventry avenues, sandwiched between a company that makes circuit boards and the Croydon train station. The house recently was listed for sale, according to Zillow, the online real estate website.
The property appeared on the Bristol Township Zoning and Planning Department’s radar in August 2014, when it received a complaint from an unidentified Lower Southampton police officer that it was operating as a recovery house, according to documents filed with the township.
A year earlier, on July 11, 2013, a 20-year-old woman died of a fatal drug overdose in the house, according to police.
Bristol Township zoning laws require a property owner to obtain a rental certificate before renting a home, room or apartment in a single-family home. And the house must pass a township inspection before tenants move in.
On Aug. 28, 2014, then-building, planning and zoning director Glenn Kucher filed a violation notice against Pramov for failing to comply with the ordinance governing rental properties and nuisances, citing the house as a "rental unregistered recovery house" with "junk" on the property, according to records filed with the township.
Pramov never complied with the citations, according to a notation in the township file on the property. The file contains no explanation as to why no action was taken. Kucher resigned in November 2014. 
The township reissued the original citations on June 9, 2015, but a note in the township's property file doesn't say why.
Shortly after the citations were reissued, Pramov applied for a zoning determination to convert the home into a sober house, according to a copy of his July 9, 2015, application. In the July 21 response, the township rejected the request because the property is zoned commercial, which doesn't support residential uses without special approval, according to township records.
On Sept. 1, 2015, an attorney representing Pramov contacted the township to resolve the violations, according to a copy of a letter in the property file. Attorney Todd Savarese enclosed copies of two letters dated Aug. 31, notifying two Coventry Avenue tenants they had 30 days to vacate. Savarese also wrote that Pramov "understands and agrees that he is not permitted to use the Coventry Avenue property as a transitional sober house for occupancy by unrelated persons."
However, Savarese also wrote that his client believed part of the property had a "historic use as a shelter by unrelated persons" and that might entitle him to zoning relief that he was unable to pursue because of "financial constraints."
Saverese didn't respond to emails, phone messages or a business card left at at his Churchville law office seeking additional comment. There's no indication if he still represents Pramov.
Fewer than two months after the township received Saverese’s letter, Spearing's father was helping him move into 616 Coventry.
How do you choose?
The lack of state or federal standards make it difficult to know much about recovery houses, including where they're located, who runs them, and if they're providing sober and safe environments.
Leonard Spearing, who has the same name as his late son, said his family relied on a referral from a drug treatment center to find a recovery house for his son. Treatment facilities are state-licensed and regulated, unlike recovery houses.
The elder Spearing said his son was discharged in October 2015 from a Philadelphia mental health and drug rehabilitation center to the Coventry Avenue house. Discharge papers the family provided this news organization identify the property as a recovery house and Pramov as its contact.
"(The rehab center) told me they would check out this facility and make sure it was safe for him," said Spearing, a Horsham resident.
After a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs was told about the Spearing family's statements, he said the agency's Bureau of Quality Assurance for Prevention and Treatment would contact the facility to discuss its referral process. Spokesman Jason Snyder wouldn't confirm if the drug rehab identified by Spearing had referred patients to 616 Coventry, but said the agency would "encourage" the center to investigate the quality of the recovery homes to which it refers clients.
The state agency cannot do anything beyond that, since it doesn't regulate recovery houses, Snyder said. It also doesn't regulate the referrals made by the licensed drug treatment centers and halfway houses it does oversee, he added.
The elder Spearing said he wrote a $165 check for the first week's rent at 616 Coventry Ave. A copy of that canceled check showed that it was dated Oct. 28, 2015, and made out to "Cedar Avenue House."
Cedar Avenue House is a registered nonprofit that lists it location as 100 Cedar Ave. in Croydon, according to its IRS 990, a tax form that must be filed by registered nonprofit entities. County maps show 100 Cedar Ave., which is a recovery house for men, is next door to 616 Coventry Ave.
In its 990 IRS forms, Cedar Avenue House is listed as providing "support services to chemically dependent adults in the early stages of recovery in a semi-protected home-like facility." The IRS forms identify Pramov as the custodian of the organization's documents, including financial statements in 2013, according to Cedar Avenue House's most recently filed 990 form.
When his son moved in to 616 Coventry, four other people were living there, including Pramov and his wife, Spearing said.
"I was reassured by the owner (about the recovery house's operations)," Spearing said. "He told me that recovery is like a hill, and when we are going up the hill, some of us struggle and that then, the others help us out."
Spearing said he was hopeful his son would continue his sobriety journey. The younger Spearing appeared to be adjusting to the new environment and told his father that Pramov drove him to 12-step support meetings. The last time Spearing saw his son, they talked about taking the younger Spearing's 10-year-old daughter to the zoo. There was no sign he was using drugs again, Spearing said.
But another recovering addict who lived in the house told police that Spearing bought drugs and used them with her at 616 Coventry Ave. the night before he died, according to a copy of the Bucks County coroner’s autopsy report provided by the Spearing family.
The next morning, the woman said she woke up to find Spearing unresponsive in her bedroom, according to the report. 
Toxicology results confirmed Spearing had narcotics in his system, including cocaine, morphine and codeine, the report said. His cause of death was attributed to the adverse effects of those drugs.
Bristol Township Lt. Terry Hughes said police planned to file drug possession charges against the woman resident, but she died of an overdose in March, before Spearing's toxicology results were returned. She didn't OD at 616 Coventry, authorities said.
After Spearing's death, Hughes said he went to the township's license and inspection department and suggested an investigation into 616 Coventry Ave. He said he was told an investigation was underway. Bristol Township Manager William McCauley didn't respond to a request asking if an investigation had taken place and, if so, the results of it.
Another death

Katelynne Sheaf, who struggled with heroin addiction, died of a drug overdose in June 2015. Here, she is pictured days after she moved into what her family said was a recovery house in Bristol Township.
Fewer than five months before Spearing died — on June 2, 2015 — Katelynne Sheaf fatally overdosed in the same house just days after moving in, according to her family.
The 27-year-old Sheaf moved into Pramov's house at 616 Coventry Ave. after police removed her from her mother's Middletown home at her mother’s request, according to her mom, Angelina Lafaro Mundy. She said she sought the removal because Sheaf, who was living there with her two boys, was using drugs.
Her daughter previously had lived at 616 Coventry Ave. and another recovery house owned by Pramov in Bristol Township, Lafaro Mundy said. 
That second home — at 1002 Arthur Ave. in Bristol Township — has operated as a recovery house since 2014, according to township property records. Those records show Pramov applied to open the recovery house in May 2014 and was approved to rent to no more than six tenants at a time, according to inspection records.
Sheaf and Pramov both referred to 616 Coventry Ave. as a recovery house, according to Lafaro Mundy, who said she had no idea such homes weren't licensed or regulated until she started doing research after her daughter's death.
Authorities haven't provided much information about the circumstances surrounding Sheaf's death, beyond the fact she was dead for eight hours before her body was found, according to Lafaro Mundy and Dennis Sheaf, Katelynne's father and Lafaro Mundy's ex-husband.
A Bucks County coroner’s autopsy report provided by Sheaf's family confirmed her death was the result of an accidental drug overdose. The report said an unidentified friend found Sheaf unresponsive; she was last seen at about 1 a.m. June 2 and was found shortly after 9 p.m. that same day. Investigators found Sheaf with an insulin syringe in her bra and a fresh needle mark on her right arm, the report said.

Katelynne Sheaf's sons, Gabriel, 7, and Elijah, 2, on May 26, which would have been Katelynne's birthday. She died June 2, 2015, of a drug overdose.
"I want to know what went on there. I want to know why there have been deaths in (Pramov's) own residence. I want to know who is liable for my daughter’s death. There are so many unanswered questions," Dennis Sheaf said. "People call them junkies and street trash; that is somebody's daughter, somebody's son, somebody's grandchild."
Back in court
On Dec. 8, 2015, Pramov pleaded guilty before a district court judge to the citation involving junk and trash on the 616 Coventry Ave. property, according to court records. The citation he received for renting rooms without a township rental certification was dismissed, online court records show.
At that hearing — just about two months after Spearing's overdose death — the attorneys for the township and Pramov agreed he would "cease and desist" any secondary occupancy of the house within 30 days, according to a notation in the township’s property file.
Attorney Edward Zanine represented Bristol Township at the hearing. Zanine didn't respond to messages seeking comment about the hearing and 616 Coventry.
“The Bristol Township Building & Planning Department took the property owners of 616 Coventry Avenue to District Court to abate the use of the building as a boarding house,” Bristol Township's McCauley wrote in a May 3 email. “The Township has inspected the property for compliance with the (district judge’s) decision. The determination was that the property owners were in compliance with the court order.”
On Jan. 15 of this year — slightly more than a month after Pramov's hearing — a 25-year-old man who survived a drug overdose told Bristol Township police he was living at 616 Coventry Ave., Hughes said. The man didn't overdose at the house, he added.
McCauley didn't respond to follow-up requests seeking information on the township's compliance inspection. An undated "violation text" note in the property file summarizing the case stated it was "closed per insp." No other references in the file noted an inspection at the property as of July 1.   
In his May 3 email, McCauley said "follow up inspections" will be done this year to "assure compliance is maintained."
Bucks County state representatives advocating for more third-party oversight of recovery houses said the unanswered questions surrounding 616 Coventry Ave. are disturbing.
"If they aren't acting as a recovery house, then it's a boarding house and why isn't the township citing them?" asked state Rep. Tina Davis, D-141, of Bristol Township. "What I find the most sad, the father of the son (Spearing) paying the $165. They feel like they're doing something because they're putting them in a recovery home and they have no idea."
Davis has introduced two bills in the House; one would create a voluntary certification for recovery homes and tie that registration with professional referrals and state funding, and the other gives local governments the ability to establish minimum standards for the residences. Both bills remain in committee.
State Rep. Frank Farry, R-142, of Langhorne, has sought recovery house regulations since 2013. He said Lafaro Mundy came to his office last year for help finding out what happened to her daughter, but Farry didn’t know about the overdose involving Spearing until this news organization told him. His office is investigating further, he said.
"If I had people living in my house that are fighting addiction, one overdose is too much — much less three," Farry said. "Then when I hear it's run as a nonprofit on top of that, I'm curious about how that nonprofit status takes place and where the money is going."
As for Spearing, he urges families to thoroughly investigate where they're sending their newly sober loved ones.
"Don't assume they're OK," he said of post-treatment houses. "Sometimes, you don't get second chances."
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email:; Twitter: @JoCiavaglia

Little known about Bucks County inmate monitoring program; unique in Philadelphia region

Posted Aug. 7, 2016

Vallia Valene Karaharisis died in 2013 during heroin withdrawl

Bucks County appears to be one of the few Pennsylvania counties that pays prisoners to monitor sick or suicidal inmates, but little is known about the decades-old program that has been named in a wrongful-death lawsuit involving a female inmate who died during heroin detoxification.
The federal lawsuit prompted this news organization to look into the practice of inmate monitoring, only to find after months of research and interviews that little public information exists about such programs in county prisons in Bucks or elsewhere.
The data that was found shows the practice varies by local laws and agency policies, according to prisoner advocates and trade groups representing prisons. There are no federal standards or guidelines for such monitoring programs, including inmate selection and training.
Bucks County spokesman Christopher Edwards said the county started the inmate monitoring program more than 30 years ago to supplement corrections staff, adding "It's a way of doubling the watch."
The Bucks County Correctional Facility has about 210 corrections officers assigned to oversee roughly 800 prisoners in the men's and women's units. Inmates earn $3 for an eight-hour shift to monitor inmates like Vallia Valene Karaharisis.
The 29-year-old Philadelphia woman was assigned an inmate monitor in September 2013 while she was on what the prison said was routine medical watch for heroin detoxification. She was found unresponsive in her prison cell, roughly four hours after she last spoke to a prison employee, according to prison officials and court documents. An autopsy and toxicology report concluded she experienced “sudden death during heroin withdrawal.”
In a federal civil suit filed last year, Karaharisis’ mother, Loretta Lopez, alleges the use of inmate monitors contributed to her daughter's death. The defendants include Bucks County, the prison and PrimeCare Medical Inc., the county's medical service contractor. Lopez’s attorney, Jonathan Feinberg, declined comment due to the ongoing litigation, as did PrimeCare and Bucks County.
“The lack of monitoring of Ms. Karaharisis’s medical status was due to a policy, practice or custom of correctional and medical staff at BCCF to assign inmates, referred to as ‘babysitters,’ the responsibility to monitor persons undergoing detoxification, notwithstanding the fact that such ‘babysitters’ have no training, medical or otherwise, concerning the risks of detoxification,” the suit alleges.
Karaharisis is one of two inmates who have died at the Bucks County Correctional Facility during heroin detoxification since 2013 while under medical watch and assigned inmate monitoring. She is among seven inmate deaths since 2006, according to county officials. Two of those deaths were suicides, but Edwards could only confirm one of those inmates wasn't considered a suicide risk and wasn't assigned an inmate monitor.

 Did You Know?

Bucks County prison inmates who work in the jail are paid out of the Inmate Welfare Fund, which is independent of the county general fund or prison budget. The fund is made up of a sales commission that vendors who operate the commissary and telephones pay the county.
In response to a Right to Know request this news organization made for general information about the Bucks County inmate monitoring program, the county released some documentation -- including inmate payroll records for one week and inmate pay rates. Prison officials declined to release a copy of the monitoring policy, citing concerns about possible safety threats to inmates and corrections officers. They also have refused to answer additional questions, including ones about how inmate monitors are screened, selected, trained and supervised.
"Disclosure of this policy could lead to manipulation by inmates that could compromise the effectiveness of this policy. Inmates' knowledge and manipulation of this policy could also lead to a compromise of safety and security within the correctional facility and even outside of it," according to the county in its Right to Know response denying the information. Section 708 of the state Right to Know Law Safety allows information requests to be rejected for certain reasons, including "personal or public security."  
Previously, prison officials have said inmate monitors and correction officers are each required to conduct visual checks of inmates who are on medical watch every 15 minutes. Inmates on what was called "acute watch" require constant observation. Inmate monitors are supposed to write down the status of the prisoners they monitor, including their behavior and activity, officials said. It’s unknown exactly what would trigger monitors to call for assistance from staff or whether monitors are responsible for multiple inmates on a medical watch detail.
Records provided by the prison show that inmate monitor appears to be the most popular job at Bucks County prison. During one week in late November last year, inmate monitors accounted for roughly one quarter of the 345 inmate workforce, more than any other job, according to inmate payroll records.
“It’s always been a position of honor for inmates to become 'babysitters.' Cameras could be installed, but, in my humble opinion, eyes and ears are superior,” veteran Lower Bucks defense attorney Ron Elgart said.
Inmate monitoring elsewhere
No other Pennsylvania county in the Philadelphia metro region uses inmate monitors, according to officials.
Lehigh County is the closest prison where inmates are used to monitor other prisoners. That program started in 2002, following a series of inmate suicides and attempted suicides at the prison, which houses roughly 1,000 inmates and employs about 200 corrections officers, said corrections director Edward Sweeney.
Lehigh monitors are used almost exclusively for 24-hour suicide precaution assignments, though the prison’s policy allows them to be used for other types of medical conditions requiring close observation, he said. Monitors aren't used to observe inmates during drug or alcohol detoxification.
The monitors supplement assigned corrections officers, who are expected to perform required inmate medical checks and observations as well, Sweeney added.
"It’s a very cheap belt-and-suspenders approach to the typical just corrections officer (monitor)," Sweeney said. "Knock on wood, we have not had a successful suicide of any inmate who is being subjected to an inmate monitor."
An extra set of eyes isn't the only benefit Sweeney sees to the monitoring program. He believes the experience give inmates the chance to demonstrate responsibility and show empathy.
Potential inmate monitors must demonstrate good conduct in prison, a cooperative attitude, good communication skills and the ability to remain alert for eight hours, since monitors often work the overnight shift, Sweeney said. A treatment supervisor reviews the applications and chooses the monitors. The prison has about 25 monitors, Sweeney said; they earn $3 for an eight-hour shift.
The prison medical staff provides 15 minutes of training before a monitor is assigned to an inmate, the Lehigh prison chief said. Monitors record the assigned inmate’s status every 15 minutes; the sheets are turned in at the end of the shift, Sweeney said. Monitors are encouraged to talk to the inmates they observe and immediately notify staff of any problem or behavioral change, he added.
On the rare occasions when inmate monitors are used for "general" medical purposes, Sweeney said they typically are assigned to elderly or disabled inmates who have mobility problems.
Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, Lackawanna County, in northeastern Pennsylvania, started an inmate monitoring program last year as part of suicide prevention efforts and Luzerne County jail has used inmate monitors as part of its suicide prevention program for more than a decade, according to the Pennsylvania Prison Society, a statewide prisoner advocacy group.
As for the prevalence of inmate monitoring programs in county correctional facilities around the country, Robert Kasabian, executive director of the American Jail Association, said his group doesn't track it or have a list of jails that use the practice. The association is a trade group that represents employees at some of the nation's correctional facilities.
Based on anecdotal evidence, AJA President Wayne Dicky said it appears most inmate monitoring programs are used exclusively for suicide prevention.
For more than a decade, monitors have been used "occasionally" in the Brazos County, Texas, jail where Dicky is an administrator. Generally, he said, they're used a couple times a month on suicide watches to supplement corrections officers. 
"They sit and make observations about what they see. Their only job is, if someone (inmate) is hurting themselves, let someone (staff) know," Dicky said. "The key is those inmates have no decision-making power and they can never have any power over who they are watching."
State and federal prisons
Pennsylvania state prisons train inmates as "certified peer support specialists" to work with other prisoners who are having emotional difficulties or to de-escalate tense situations, according to state prison spokeswoman Susan McNaughton. The peer specialists, who are supervised by prison staff, are used throughout state prisons, including in infirmaries, general housing and mental health units, McNaughton said.
Inmate monitoring, which has been used in federal prisons for more than a decade, has shown some success in preventing suicide, according to a 2005 study, which was the most recent.
As part of the Federal Bureau of Prisons study, a psychologist at a North Carolina federal prison trained inmates to watch their suicidal peers, record log entries at 15-minute intervals and call for assistance during emergencies. The psychologist also gave the observers information about suicidal behaviors, active listening and confidentiality. The inmate observers were instructed that their job was to observe, not counsel.
The study found the length and frequency of suicide watches were reduced when suicidal inmates were observed by their trained peers than when they were observed by corrections officers. While it provided no clear data on the reasons, one researcher suggested time spent with a peer could reduce stress or suicidal inmates sometimes threaten to harm themselves to manipulate corrections staff.
The study also found a drop in suicides and a $300,000 saving in overtime pay in one year at the federal prison. Both were attributed to the inmate monitoring program.
Concerns expressed
Some prisoner advocates and corrections professionals have raised concerns about the effectiveness of inmate monitors in prisons, citing potential problems with inmate access to sensitive health information and a lack of consistent, trained monitors.
“The use of inmate companions for suicide prevention is not used in the majority of correctional facilities throughout the country for obvious reasons, including reliability and potential liability, as well as ethical issues,” said Lindsay Hayes. He's the project director at the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, an advocacy group for prisoners and others in institutional settings.
"An inmate should never be placed in the position of having to supervise or (have) any other responsibilities over another inmate," Hayes added. 
Despite that, the center has found inmate observers are often being used in suicide prevention programs in prisons where overtime pay is a concern, said Hayes, a national expert on prison suicides and prevention programs. National corrections standards don’t support using inmates to replace staff, he said.
“Perhaps most importantly, inmate companions have little, if any, impact on the reduction of inmate suicides because most inmates commit suicide when they are not on suicide precaution,” Hayes said. “Therefore, because the inmate companion program is often used only when an inmate is placed on suicide precautions, its impact in reducing inmate suicides is negligible.”
Lehigh County’s Sweeney acknowledged that the roughly six inmates who ended their own lives since the inmate monitoring program began there weren't on suicide watch.
Angus Love, executive director of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, an advocacy group, called inmate monitoring a well-intentioned program, but one fraught with potential problems. He said the program carries significant risk, especially in relation to maintaining the strict medical confidentiality required by federal law.
Training and retention are also challenges, said Phyllis Taylor, a volunteer with the Pennsylvania Prison Society who is working with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to refine its prison companions program.
Taylor, a former prison nurse and chaplain, said she tried unsuccessfully to introduce an inmate monitoring program in Philadelphia’s prison system. One reason it didn’t work was the high turnover rate as prisoners are bailed out or transferred to state prison, she said, adding that the ideal monitors should be serving sentences of at least 11 months.
"It's extremely hard in a jail setting,” Taylor said. "It's a hugely complicated thing.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email:; Twitter: @JoCiavaglia

State: Voluntary certification process for recovery homes moving forward

Posted July 20, 2016
Recovery house residents prepare a meal
Pennsylvania soon could join a handful of states in implementing voluntary certification for recovery houses — a controversial and unregulated segment of the housing industry catering to former substance abusers seeking long-term sobriety.
The Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, which licenses and oversees drug and alcohol treatment centers and programs that provide medical care, has formally released draft recommendations for certifying recovery house programs for public review and comment for 30 days.
At the end of the public comment period, the department will complete its final internal review and announce the final standards as well as the state agency responsible for implementing and overseeing the certification, DDAP spokesman Jason Alexander said. Department leaders anticipate the certification process will be finalized before the end of this year and are confident the regulations can be implemented without formal legislation.
“Laying the groundwork for a process that will affect tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians for years to come must be done smartly and strategically," DDAP Secretary Gary Tennis said. "We are committed to taking great care to develop a sound, well-thought out policy that best serves all the members of our communities, and this task force has done that.”
Pennsylvania, like most states, currently has no operating standards, employee training requirements or review process for recovery homes, whose residents are protected from discrimination under federal housing and disability laws, making regulating them difficult, local and state officials said. The lack of oversight has made it difficult for families, recovering addicts and local officials to know much about recovery houses including where they're located, who runs them and if they provide a sober and safe environment critical to lasting sobriety.
In Bucks County, at least 121 recovery houses were operating as of earlier this year, according to an analysis by this news organization; more than three-quarters of the homes were located in Bristol Township, where the issue has faced intense public scrutiny in recent years. 
The draft recommendations were prepared by the Certified Drug and Alcohol Recovery Housing Task Force, whose members are law enforcement representatives, recovery house operators, drug treatment providers, advocates, recovery support groups and county and state drug and alcohol service agencies. The group met over 18 months to draft standards to address issues such as the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, consumer protections, discriminatory practices and community concerns.
Once the final standards and process are in place, recovery house owners can decide if they want to seek certification. The certification is voluntary, but recovery house operators who don’t sign up likely would lose access to state funding and referrals from drug rehab centers that receive state funding.
This news organization last month obtained a copy of the draft report, which includes a first-ever definition of recovery residences, building standards, an ethics code and minimum policies and procedures for operating recovery homes that serve individuals recovering from substance addiction who want a stable, drug-free living environment. Available behavior research has shown recovery houses can be an important transitional step toward maintaining sobriety.
Under the proposed standards, operators would be responsible for tracking the progress of residents by maintaining medical and personal histories, fees, activity logs, treatment referrals and case management service records. For the first time, certified houses also would be required to collect basic data, including when residents arrive and leave and the reason they moved out. Residents who are removed involuntarily from a house must be provided a written notice that includes the reason for getting booted, something that does not typically happen now.
Any unusual incidents — including overdoses, deaths, suicide attempts, sexual or physical assaults, outbreaks of contagious diseases, fire or structural damage — would have to be reported to the DDAP within 48 hours.
Home owners, operators, house officers and employees would face new scrutiny including a criminal background check and drug and alcohol testing at the DDAP's request. Former residents who want to work in the same recovery house where they once lived would be required to maintain sobriety for at least 18 months before they could be hired.
The draft standards also require operators to maintain housing quality "consistent" with the nature of the immediate neighborhood, set deadlines for addressing maintenance or mechanical problems and to carry general liability insurance on the properties. Certified recovery homes would need to meet building and amenity standards and limits on the number of residents.
Among the proposed standards are a minimum of two exits on every floor, including a basement, at least one smoke detector and fire extinguisher on each floor, and a carbon monoxide detector with heating systems involving gas or an attached garage. Houses also would have to have a written fire safety policy that includes evacuation procedures and unannounced fire drills every 90 days.
Along with its draft standards, the task force recommended additional state funding to county level drug and alcohol service providers to cover the cost of new case management services for some recovery residents. It also recommended that DDAP consider providing funding assistance to recovery home operators who could be required to upgrade their houses and obtain additional training to meet the voluntary standards.
The state agency already allows its county partners, such as county drug and alcohol service providers, to use state grants for the delivery of drug and alcohol prevention services to pay for temporary stays at recovery houses. Bucks County is one of 12 counties during the most recent fiscal year to use the DDAP money for that purpose.
Pennsylvania’s proposed regulations are modeled after ones in states such as Florida, Massachusetts and Ohio, which have enacted a voluntary certification process to bring supervision and consistent standards to recovery residences and weed out poorly run operations. In those states, behavioral health centers, drug treatment centers and courts can refer clients to only certified recovery houses. Certified houses in those states also have access to additional state funding and resources.
Bucks County state lawmaker Rep. Frank Farry, R-142, of Langhorne, who has advocated for recovery house regulations since 2013, wants to see final regulations that include mandates that anyone receiving state assistance — including unemployment, food stamps or Medicaid — who wants to stay in a recovery house can be referred to certified houses only. He also wants the mandate applied to court supervised individuals and those released from state-funded treatment centers.
"They’re not going to solve the problem completely. The only way the problem gets solved completely is if the federal lawmakers stop the conflict among their existing laws and allow states to regulate or pass regulations themselves,” Farry added. “What we focused on was to find something that can make a difference and improve the situation.”
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email:; Twitter: @JoCiavaglia

Student researchers find contrasts between RNC and DNC protests and protesters

Posted July 29, 2016
Far more people participated in protests during last week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia than they did at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland earlier this month, but that wasn’t the only difference Penn State University and University of Pennsylvania student researchers found in the conventions.
In Philadelphia, far more protesters were focused on changing the party’s nominee than they were in Cleveland, according to preliminary research the students conducted during the DNC last week. Influence of money and political corruption were also the top motivations for protesters, the researchers found. 
Philadelphia DNC protests were more varied and larger than those held during the Republican National Convention, the researchers found.
The Penn State-led group estimated 5,000 to 10,000 people turned out across the city for events on Monday, the opening day of the convention. That was 10 to 20 times higher than the number of protesters outside the RNC on its first day, according to Penn State political professor Lee Ann Banaszak, who's leading the student research project examining modern political demonstrations.
The student research team surveyed participants at a number of events held between City Hall and nearby Dilworth Park and areas around the Wells Fargo Center, about three miles away, including Occupy the DNC, the Bernie Sanders March, the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign March and the Equality Coalition March on the DNC.
On the DNC's first day, researchers spoke to 223 people, Banaszak said.
Despite what Banaszak called the national media's emphasis on the “Dump Trump” movement at the RNC, far more people participating in demonstrations outside the DNC were protesting Clinton as the nominee on the first day the surveys were conducted.
“I saw a lot of people talking about the Green Party and other options (more than during the Republican convention)," Banaszak said, adding, “It’s not that people aren’t as strong advocates for certain positions, but they see their position as changing the party nominee.”
In contrast, the student researchers found the GOP nominee wasn't the main reason people demonstrated in Cleveland.  
Nearly one-quarter of those surveyed said racial inequity and racism were the reason they were protesting at the RNC, compared to 16 percent of protesters who were there to support or oppose Trump. Fewer than 10 percent of the protesters polled said their main concern was corruption or the influence of money on politics. Students spoke with 111 participants at three events on the opening day of the RNC. They attended all rallies that had city permits, plus marches and events in the official protest areas outside the convention.
Fewer than 5 percent of Cleveland protesters said their goal was to change the GOP nominee or position on an issue, while most told researchers they were there to express unity on an issue or change public opinion, the researchers found.
The group’s preliminary research at the RNC also found the number of protesters there was far lower than expected, with numbers in the hundreds rather than the anticipated thousands. Police made 23 arrests during the first three days of that convention.
During the DNC, at least 60 events were scheduled and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney's office estimated they could attract as many as 50,000 participants daily. However, final estimates put the number of protesters at about 10,000 daily, with the numbers dropping to a few hundred on the last day of the convention.
Philadelphia police issued more than 100 civil citations that carry a $50 fine for nuisance violations, such as obstructing a road or pathway and disorderly conduct. Eleven out-of-state protesters — all Sanders supporters — are facing misdemeanor charges in federal court after they were arrested for allegedly climbing fences to enter a secured perimeter around the Wells Fargo Center, where the DNC was held.
The student researchers plan to write reports on their findings, which will include the results of follow up email surveys of participants interviewed, Banaszak said.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email:; Twitter: @JoCiavaglia