What Do Prisons Do With Drug Addicts?

Drug abuse has far-reaching consequences. The effects of using drugs not only affect an individual but also their family, workplace, and community at large. It is serious enough that there’s a direct correlation between drug abuse and crime and you don’t have to look that hard to find inmates in prison or local jails who are users. An overwhelming number of incarcerated inmates are serving time for DUIs, possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia, drug trafficking, or other drug-related crimes. Others are on probation or parole for the same crimes.

As drug abuse and drug-related crimes increased over the years, the criminal justice system in the US responded with increased arrests and incarceration. The reasoning was that this would deter others from following the same path. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen, and using this method didn’t stop the tide but instead created a host of new problems. Key among these problems was the question of what to do with drug addicts once they were behind bars.

Prisoners and Addiction

Incarceration has been found to have little impact on substance use and may actually exacerbate the problem. This can happen in two ways.

First, contrary to popular belief, drugs are available in prison. Inmates have devised ingenious ways of having drugs smuggled to them from the outside. This not only poses a problem for those already addicted but also ropes in other inmates into addiction. Life in prison isn’t for the fainthearted and losing the life you knew as well as your freedom can take a toll. So much so that some inmates will do anything they can to find some sort of escape, including trying and getting hooked on drugs.

The other way incarceration worsens drug abuse is by increasing the mortality rate from a drug overdose. Research has shown that drug-addicted inmates are at a greater risk for overdose in the first few weeks following their release from prison. This happens because their tolerance for drugs drops significantly during their time behind bars. Even though they may get their hands on drugs while on the inside, it is likely nowhere near the rate they were using on the outside. Once they’re released, they try using the same amount of drugs they did before, leading to an overdose.

Clearly, throwing drug addicts in prison and forgetting about them isn’t the way to go. So what can prisons do with addicts?

What Should Prisons Do With Drug Addicts?

Although inmates are legally entitled to healthcare and should have access to addiction treatment, many prisons simply lack the capacity to provide this. Unlike drug rehabilitation facilities, prisons are ill-equipped to deal with substance abuse cases. Medically-assisted detox and treatment for drug abuse are hard to come by and prisoners are largely left to battle withdrawal symptoms and addiction on their own.

According to a report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), 65% of all inmates in the country meet the medical criteria for substance use disorder (SUD) but only 11% of them receive any form of treatment. This is despite studies showing that addressing SUD during inmates’ prison time and immediately after their release goes a long way toward reducing addiction and recidivism.

However, a number of correctional facilities do offer some form of in-prison substance use disorder treatment. Some of the programs in federal prisons designed to assist inmates to overcome substance use include:

  • Drug abuse education

These programs are meant to educate addicted inmates about the dangers of substance abuse and addiction and how they affect an individual’s life. The Federal Bureau of Prisons also uses this program to identify inmates who may require more extensive drug treatment.

  • Non-residential drug abuse treatment

This program is for inmates with short sentences, those nearing their release dates as well as those who don’t require extensive SUD treatment. The program runs in a group setting and uses cognitive-behavioral therapy to change inmates’ negative thoughts and behavior, replacing them with more positive ones.

  • Residential drug abuse program

Offered by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Residential Drug Abuse Program helps hundreds of inmates annually. This is an intensive 9-month program where inmates learn to live in a social community. They learn new ways of living and thinking that help them turn their backs on drugs and their criminal past. Those who graduate from this program can earn up to a year of their sentence and are expected to adhere to certain conditions once released. This includes attending aftercare weekly and being subject to random drug tests.

  • Community treatment services

These programs are designed to provide continued care to inmates who are released from prison. Services provided include mental health therapy, life skills training, and crisis management.

Benefits of Prison Substance Abuse Treatment

Although these substance abuse treatment programs may not be as comprehensive as those offered in traditional rehab centers, they are a step in the right direction. Some of the benefits realized from these programs include:

  • Helping drug-addicted inmates overcome drug use and improve their overall physical and mental health.
  • Reduced cases of inmate misconduct, relapse, and criminality.
  • An increase in the inmates’ education level, gives them a better chance of securing employment upon release.
  • Giving inmates a support system especially once they are released. Aftercare services are especially vital in preventing deaths from a drug overdose.
  • Reduced the economic burden of recidivism since rehabilitating drug addicts is more cost-effective than incarcerating them.

Recovery is the Best Choice

Sending drug addicts to prison isn’t the best way to address substance abuse issues. Instead of punishing these offenders, the focus should be on rehabilitating them.

Addiction treatment programs such as those offered by Findlay Recovery Center offer the best chance of helping drug addicts get back on their feet and turn their lives around. Both our alcohol addiction treatment and drug addiction residential treatment programs are evidence-based and can be tailored to an individual’s recovery goals. If you or your loved one need drug rehab treatment, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

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