HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — Female inmates at the J. Reuben Long Detention Center now have access to a recovery program previously only available to male prisoners.

For the past 14 years, the highly successful Next Steps program was only available to male inmates because of funding issues, but officials said that all changed when the Horry County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail, received a $300,000 grant from an opioid settlement fund.

The expanded program means women in jail now have access to a variety of classes and other resources.

“I’m actually glad that I came to jail, so that I could actually have [an] opportunity for something that I would have never done on the outside,” said Amber, who suffers from drug addiction and is among the first group of women accepted into the program.

“This is going to help me get my GED, something I’ve been trying to get for years,” she said. “I’m 35 years old, about to be 36. And I don’t have a GED. To me. This is an opportunity at life.”

The program introduces inmates to multiple pathways of recovery and provides educational resources and community resources. They are connected with mentors who can guide them in their recovery from substance abuse and help them find jobs and housing once they are released.

“The population of women compared to men is much smaller,” said Dustin Walter, treatment director at J. Reuben Long. “And so a lot of institutions fail to utilize the resources that they have for that population.”

Walters said he has a personal connection to substance abuse that motivated him to work toward expanding the program to female inmates. He said has been sober for almost seven years and lost his son’s mother to addiction.

“The main thing is that we’re able to, you know, create continuity of care, from jail to the community, because that’s where a lot of people, you know, fall through the cracks,” he said. “You know, they leave jail, and then what?”

Currently, there are 36 women in the program. Participants must request to participate and complete an assessment that includes writing a one-page essay about why they should be accepted into the program.

”And it’s such, like I said, a chance at life,” Amber said. “And I am so happy. And I’m ready to take it. I know I’ve been to jail plenty of times. But this right here, I felt when I came in. I felt it. I felt it and I never felt it any other time.”

Amber, who said she has been sober for 30 days, said this is the first time that she has ever had hope for a change at recovery.

“I’m not gonna sit here and lie to you and say that it’s not hard,” Amber said. “Because I wake up every day thinking about it. I go to sleep every night thinking about it. But gradually each day has gotten easier for me. The programs help. They help get our minds off of the addiction.” 

Officials said they are also looking to add female counselors and female peer support for those in the program.

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Maya Lockett is a reporter at News13. Maya is from Los Angeles. She joined the News13 team in November 2021. She graduated from Syracuse University. Follow Maya on Twitter and read more of her work here.