Addiction in Jails and Prisons: A New Approach

A recent article by relates a story in which a jail in Virginia partnered with a local addiction treatment organization to address a rapidly expanding heroin addiction problem among inmates.

Instead of simply warehousing inmates, prison officials took a revolutionary, treatment-focused approach that recognizes each person’s right to compassion, understanding and care.

The program provided inmates with professional treatment and medical care to address the disease of addiction for the long term, instead of a temporary bandage in which people are trapped in an endless cycle of addiction, crime, detox and relapse. The result was remarkable success at a cost of $800 per inmate per year, far less than the cost of extended jail time.

The State of Kentucky has also taken a more enlightened approach, enacting reforms that emphasize treatment over incarceration, thus saving the state millions of dollars that can be used for other vital services such as infrastructure, education and childcare.

Both programs place emphasis on treatment such as therapy, drug abuse education, support groups and skill building,

Addiction and Prisons: The Statistics

Since the 1980s, prison populations in the United States have increased by nearly 600 percent, nearly half involving drug-related crimes. The current approach isn’t an effective use of the public’s money, and unfortunately, prison may be the absolute worst place for addicts.

According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, about two-thirds of America’s 2.3 million prison inmates meet diagnostic criteria for substance abuse or addiction, and a significant number committed their crime while under the influence.

In spite of those high numbers, a 2009 study revealed that less than 30 percent of prisons have any type of detox protocol in place. Only about 11 percent of addicted prisoners receive any treatment and very few have access to new medications that reduce cravings and help them safely kick the habit.

Some severely addicted prisoners die during non-supervised withdrawal because medical attention isn’t always available to relieve their suffering. Others die from overdose soon after release.

Prisoners and the High Risk of Death by Overdose

The first two weeks after release from prison are dangerous for addicts, and the risk of overdose is extremely high. Most addicted prisoners start using drugs again immediately, and all too often, they don’t survive the experience. Even those who have been incarcerated for a relatively short time don’t realize tolerance decreases during their time behind bars and that the body is no longer able to handle the same dosage they were accustomed to taking before they entered prison.

Get Well and Avoid Jail Time: Drug and Alcohol Treatment and Rehab

The dangers of long-term substance abuse are considerable and addiction-related crime frequently leads to legal problems and incarceration. If you are struggling with substance abuse or dependence, drug and alcohol addiction treatment or rehab can help you return to a normal, productive life without risk of time spent in prison or jail.

Seek help as soon as possible; drug and alcohol addiction rarely get better without help.

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