Woman gets prison time for drugs

HOLLIDAYSBURG – An Altoona defense attorney asked Thursday that his client, an admitted drug addict, not be sent to a state correctional institution where she will be “warehoused” instead of receiving treatment.

Attorney Dan Kiss pointed out that Blair County has one of the highest recidivism rates among inmates released from state facilities.

Kiss requested that Tammi Koch, 29, of Altoona be placed on a work release program, which would permit her to work and undergo drug treatment locally.

“She should work every day,” said Kiss, stating, “I think Ms. Koch needs motivation – a swift kick in the rear end.”

His point was that Koch needs to build her self-confidence and to convince herself she doesn’t need drugs when a problem arises.

Some people, Kiss said, “almost need to be forced to build self-confidence.”

Kiss referred to a recent report by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections on the number of inmates who have returned to prison during the three years after their release.

The 2013 report shows that of the 396 inmates from Blair released during the past three years, 196, or 56.2 percent, have been rearrested. Only Philadelphia, Carbon and Dauphin counties have higher rates of recidivism, Kiss said.

The mean recidivism rate of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties was at 43 percent.

He asked that Koch receive treatment rather than be placed in the state prison population and “come out no better than when she went in.”

Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva’s view of Koch and her situation differed dramatically. She sentenced the Altoona woman to serve two to four years in the State Correctional Institution at Muncy, during which time she will undergo drug and mental health treatment.

Koch was in trouble with the law because of past drug and assault cases.

She was part of the Blair County Drug Court but was detained in the Blair County Prison last October after using heroin.

She was then released to a Blair County treatment facility but was given a behavioral discharge in December after using Suboxone, a heroin substitute.

In April, she went to a statewide treatment program called Concept 90, operated by the nonprofit agency, Gaudenzia.

Koch left the treatment program about a month ago and eventually turned herself in but not before once against using Suboxone.

She was before the judge Thursday on a parole violation and a parole officer’s notation that she fails to acknowledge her addiction.

Koch, emotionally upset, told Kopriva she left Concept 90 because she felt degraded. She was asked to collect food trays of other program participants after breakfast and dinner.

“They treated me like absolute dirt there,” she said.

“She does need help for her addiction. … She does need structure. … Warehousing is not the answer,” argued Kiss.

Kopriva answered by pointing to Koch’s history of inpatient treatment, enrollment in the county drug court and participating in drug and alcohol programs operated by Blair County Home Nursing Agency, and then she addressed the tray issue.

“You were not investing, not participating. … They were trying to teach you humility. You had such a cocky attitude.”

She placed the ball in Koch’s hands, stating, “You’ve got to decide who you want to be.”

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.