Drug addiction in the United States is a huge epidemic and has led to the increase in opening of drug rehabilitation treatment centers. Many of these treatment centers have been around for decades, such as the Betty Ford Center and others, and more treatment centers are even accepting most insurance carriers, making it more affordable for people who cannot afford to pay hard cash to treat their addiction. However, one population is left out of most addiction treatments: prisoners, the population that needs treatment the most.
Shortage of prison drug treatment programs
Although drug offenders represent the largest sub-population of prisoners in the federal prison system, thousands wait months to begin drug education or rehabilitation because of staff shortages and limited resources, according to federal investigators. “More than 51,000 inmates were on waiting lists in 2011 — some up to three months — for basic drug-education programs, far more than the 31,803 who were enrolled,” according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released in USA Today.
Drug use among inmates
The majority of prison inmates have been affected by substance abuse. In fact, according to Substance Abuse Treatment For Adults in the Criminal Justice System, the lifetime prevalence of substance abuse or dependence disorders among prisoners is about 75 percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s estimate was far more striking, citing an estimated 1.9 million people in jail or prison who have used illicit drugs.
Drug use in prison affects people’s state of mind, emotion and cognition, which leads to violent behaviors among inmates, perpetuating the cycle. People who use drugs are more likely to end up in prison because they are at an increased chance for making bad and illegal decisions when they are under the influence. An estimated 22 percent of federal and 33 percent of state inmates were under the influence of drugs when they committed the crime, according to one article.
A revolving drug use/criminal justice door
Treatment offers the best alternative for interrupting the drug use/criminal justice cycle for offenders with drug problems. Offenders should ask whether treatment is available, because they should be able to get the help they need in jail or prison. In fact, imprisoning people for drug use when no violent crime was committed perpetuates the problem of prison overcrowding and does not help the drug abuser in the long run.
Untreated substance use offenders are more likely to relapse into drug use and criminal behavior, jeopardizing public health and safety and taxing criminal justice system resources. Drug addiction and abuse don’t simply go away while a person is incarcerated; the underlying issues still remain and can make it harder for the person to readjust to daily life after being released from prison.
The U.S. Justice Department notes that two-third of drug offenders released from prison will return to jail or prison within three years. An estimated one-half of the drug offenders mentioned above will be sent back to prison on a technical violation, such as failing a drug test.
A study released in 1999 by Harry K. Wexler, Ph.D., revealed that drug treatment in prison and after prison will decrease the rate of inmates returning back to prison after their release. The study compared a 27 percent recidivism rate of prisoners who completed the prison’s drug treatment and aftercare program to a 75 percent recidivism rate for other prisoner groups.
Fixing the prison system’s drug problem
As a society, people need to work together to break this cycle. The Texas Department of Corrections has taken the lead by implementing a list of reforms that aim to reverse the growth of its prison population. By introducing treatment programs, like In-Prison Therapeutic Treatment and Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facilities, Texas has helped people who are in prison succeed in the world and not recidivate by giving them the tools they will need when they get out.
Texas is now funding programs, not prisons. These programs provide in-prison treatment, residential aftercare in a treatment center and then outpatient aftercare which includes support groups and follow-up supervision.
California’s Proposition 36 mandated that those entering the justice system on drug-related offenses be given substance abuse treatment rather than a prison sentence to prevent overcrowding in prisons and fix the underlying issue of drug convictions to get these people sober.
Drug use and prison indictments are very prevalent in adults and not so much in teens because teenagers are allowed multiple chances. However, once a teenager turns 18 and continues to engage in illegal activity of drug use, then they can be sent to prison. Preventing drug use and decreasing the number of drug-related arrests start with educating youth and keeping youth and teenagers off the streets, in schools and away from the justice system. If you or a teenager you know is involved with illicit substance use, seek help before the issue falls into the hands of the law. For more information on how to receive help for your teenager please visit the Sovereign Health Group Adolescent Program website or call 866-615-7266.
Written by Kristen Fuller, M.D., Sovereign Health Group writer