Sheriff Karl Leonard: Facing Addiction From Jail

Sheriff Karl Leonard, Heroin Addiction Recovery Program (HARP)

Innovative. Inspiring. Compassionate. Skillful. These are all words I use to describe Chesterfield, Virginia’s county sheriff, Karl Leonard. This afternoon, Sheriff Leonard took to my Facebook live to discuss his inspiration behind the visionary Heroin Addiction Recovery Program he co-founded with the McShin Foundation last spring.

Sheriff Leonard is experiencing America’s opioid epidemic first hand. He openly admits that prior to being elected county sheriff, his awareness of this public health crisis was limited. However, this past year his jail was overloaded with people suffering from heroin addiction and he knew something had to change. And it had to change quickly. The sheriff knew we couldn’t arrest our way out of this problem any longer. So how did this republican elected law enforcement official in a rural Virginia community respond? He did something that pretty much blew my mind. He bucked the system. And he began to focus on recovery solutions. No, he didn’t wait for government approval or funding from his county or state. His community was in crisis and the situation demanded an urgent response.

Sheriff Karl Leonard here taking over Ryan's live. I'm frustrated about the way our country's criminal justice system has been failing to address people facing addiction. Something HAS to change. Join me LIVE now.

Posted by Ryan Hampton on Wednesday, February 15, 2017

With the help of John Shinholser, McShin’s founder, and members of the local recovery community, Leonard was able to be fully operational with an authentic peer-to-peer recovery support system, clinical services, and professional supports inside the jail within 48 hours. No red tape. No strings attached. He wrote the check himself from his operational budget, rolled up his sleeves, and got to work. The cost of the program: about $2,500 per month for 40 inmates – that’s only about $750 per year, per inmate. Compared to the billions that our country spends on incarceration, Sheriff Leonard’s approach is not only saving taxpayer money, but saving countless lives. The academic journal Crime & Delinquency recently published a study citing if only 40% of those addicted serving time in jail or prison received treatment and recovery support services, the savings to our nation’s economy would be in excess of $12.9 billion per year. Wow. Imagine that.

When I visited the Chesterfield Jail this past summer, to say I was inspired would be an understatement. To see people living in recovery within the confines of a county jail – supporting each other, sharing their stories to inspire others, and proving America’s old ways dead wrong – that we cannot make this problem go away by locking people up and throwing away the key – I decided right then and there that I would do everything I could to get this story heard from coast-to-coast.

Our nation stands at a crossroads in 2017. We have a new President and a new Congress. Our country is up in arms about what is arguably the most urgent public health crisis of our time. When evaluating how to reform our criminal justice system to decrease recidivism and heal families, Americans need look no further than Chesterfield County, Virginia. Karl Leonard will tell you these lives are worth saving. And I’ll tell you from first hand experience, we can change the course of history by listening to him.


If you’re frustrated about the way our country’s criminal justice system has been failing to address people facing addiction, then please join the movement by signing up at