By some measures, drugs and alcohol are a component of roughly 80% of crimes involving property or violence. Drug users who are apprehended and incarcerated will theoretically have no access to drugs when they are behind bars, but the reality if prison is often at odds with the theory. Drug abuse and addiction are treated as a criminal justice problem, and drugs remain a serious problem within the United States prison population.
Addiction in our Prison Population
One addiction recovery theory holds that prisons can be a substitute for detox and drug rehab facilities. Addicts who are unable to procure drugs while they are in prison will certainly go through some form of detox and withdrawal, but prison staff is generally ill-equipped or too overwhelmed by other matters to manage any form of prisoner detox. Prisoners who are forced into withdrawal without any accompanying counseling or treatment are more susceptible to relapses and other related problems. Per a recent study, fewer than 20% of federal and state prisoners with drug problems have received professional treatment while they were incarcerated. Treatment that is available is often done at a peer-to-peer level with no oversight by trained counselors or therapists.
The fact that drugs can lead to an addicted prisoner population should come as no surprise. Individuals can be imprisoned solely for drug possession or sales. Their drug use can lead them to property crimes in order to generate the funds they need to purchase drugs. Drug addiction often pushes an individual into a lifestyle that is rife with crimes, including prostitution and physical abuse. Further, intoxicated individuals are responsible for a significant number of highway deaths and injuries, leading to their incarceration for criminal negligence.
Experts who have studied addiction in prisons have almost universally recommended the expansion of treatment programs and the extension of existing treatments in a manner that removes or lessens the stigma of a felony background from a prisoner’s record. Other recommendations include establishing special courts to handle drug-related crimes separately from other offenses, mandating continued treatment as a condition of release and probation, improving professional treatment options in prisons and halfway houses that a prisoner would live in immediately following his release, and including a drug user’s family in his treatment.
These recommendations are premised on the medical reality that drug addiction is a brain disease that affects an addict’s judgment to reduce or remove his reluctance to be involved in criminal activity. Effective treatment is not a one-time event, but needs to be continued for as long as is necessary to effect a positive change. Each person’s addictions will have their own idiosyncrasies, and those addictions require proper diagnosis and assessment from the outset. Lastly, programs need to include treatment of all pathologies that a prisoner may be suffering, including psychosocial and other mental disorders.
There are no universal answers to the drug addiction problem in prisons. For the near term, those problems will likely continue to be addressed on an ad hoc basis.
Prisoners or their families who are interested in discussing individualized treatment options can contact the Last Resort Recovery Center near Austin, Texas, at 512-360-3600 for more information and treatment recommendations.