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Jail Based Treatment of Addiction

by Ashley Smith

Finding yourself in jail is tough. Finding yourself there while also in the grip of a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) can be overwhelming, not to mention painful both physically and mentally. More and more of America’s jail population is arriving behind bars with serious addiction problems, especially opioid addictions in recent years. The challenge facing America’s criminal justice professionals is finding a way to address this problem in an effective manner.

According to a report published in The Nation’s Health (2010), some sixty-five percent of America’s inmate population met the medical criteria for substance abuse, with only about 11% receiving any kind of addiction treatment intervention.  The gap between those who need help, and those who are fortunate enough to receive it is massive and troubling.  With around 85% of those arrested and sentenced to confinement either suffering an SUD, under the influence of drugs or alcohol or committing crimes to acquire drugs, the need to intervene in the substance abuse cycle becomes even more critical.

The nation’s Sheriff’s Departments, who are responsible for running the bulk of Americas’ jails, are struggling to balance the need for effective treatment with the reality of ever-tightening budgets and growing inmate populations, a task made even more challenging with the massive explosion in opioid addictions.  The Sheriff of Middlesex county, Massachusetts reports that his staff must medically detox approximately 40% of new arrivals to his jail facility, with up to 90% of the current jail population having a drug or alcohol dependency.  This is an enormous drain on financial resources for the community.

Some communities are taking a more aggressive approach, using the inmates “forced abstinence” as a starting point to engage them in a variety of rehabilitation and treatment programs, with the goals of reducing the higher than average level of repeat offending among addicts, and helping the abuser to break the addiction cycle.  These efforts, when well designed and implemented, have a tangible financial benefit as well. Ninety-one thousand dollars in cost to tax payers is saved for every successfully recovered, non-repeat offending inmate.  No small sum when you realize how many individuals are currently residing in our jail system. In addition, the Bureau of Prisons has found that among in-prison populations, a quality treatment program offers the following benefits:

  • reduce relapse
  • reduce criminality
  • reduce recidivism
  • reduce inmate misconduct
  • increase the level of the offender’s stake in societal norms
  • increase levels of education and employment upon return to the community
  • improve health and mental health symptoms and conditions
  • improve relationships

The private prison industry has begun pushing for public-private partnerships as a way to provide substance abuse treatment programs.  Working with residential reentry centers, halfway houses, and treatment centers, companies are attempting to address the inmate addiction crisis. This process begins with treatment at the point of incarceration and continues with a transition program to move inmates from a prison cell to an interim space where recovery can continue in a more open and cost effective environment.

As municipalities struggle to meet the challenge of developing a high quality, successful, SUD treatment protocol, the logic of leveraging established public sector treatment programs makes perfect sense. They are already present in the community, utilize current methodologies, and have the expertise necessary to provide treatment from the jail cell to the point of final, successful recovery.


The Nation’s Health (2010)

Medically Reviewed By:

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

The Clinical Team at Health Care Resource Centers is our team of physicians and medical directors within the organization. HCRC is a CARF accredited organization and has been providing addiction treatment services for over 32 years in the New England area.

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