Enhance Treatment and Recovery Support During Incarceration

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Research has shown that a vast amount of the inmate population, on both the state and federal level, suffer from substance use disorder, a psychological disorder, or a combination of the two. Studies have shown that proper treatment during incarceration that is followed through to post release, significantly lowers their risk for relapse, criminality, inmate misconduct, and recidivism.


Prison Treatment Programs

The Criminal Justice System has supported treatment during incarceration by offering psychotherapy sessions, religious ministry meetings and 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous to inmates with substance use problems. [1]

While there is significant need for more availability, federal prisons offer a number of programs designed to assist inmates in overcominig a substance use disorder such as:

  • Drug Abuse Education
    • Entails a series of classes that educate inmates on substance use disorder and the effects it has on your body and mind [2]
  • Nonresidential Drug Abuse Treatment
    • A12 week CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) program that is organized in group sessions
    • This program addresses criminal lifestyles while also giving inmates the opportunity to increase skills in the areas of rational thinking, communication, and institution to community adjustment
    • Inmates that are enrolled in this program normally have short sentences, do not meet the Residential Drug Abuse Program, are waiting to be enrolled in RDAP, are in transition back into the community or have a positive urinalysis test [3]
  • Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP)
    • The most intensive program that the Bureau provides
    • Inmates in this program live in their own separate community from the rest of the population. Inmates take part in daily half-day programming and half-day of work, school, or vocational activities; this program is normally nine months in length
    • Research shows inmates that take part in RDAP are less likely to recidivate and relapse to drug use by significant amounts compared to those inmates who do not take part in RDAP [4]
  • Community Treatment Services (CTS)
    • Provides continued care to inmates who have been released and put into Residential Reentry Centers or on Home Confinement
    • Evidence shows that the period after being released is the most vulnerable time for inmates to relapse back to drug use or criminal activity; continued treatment after release is vital to the success of the offender completing their treatment [5]

Benefits of Successful Prison Treatment Programs

Well-designed prison treatment programs reduce relapse, criminality, inmate misconduct and recidivism — the likelihood that a convicted criminal will reoffend. They also increase levels of education, mend relationships, boost employment opportunities upon release and improve overall health. [6]
Research shows that residential prison treatment is cost-effective if prisoners continue treatment after their release. The cost of treatment pales in comparison to the cost of incarceration. Rehab helps prisoners overcome drug use and reduces the economic burden of recidivism. [7]

Issues Affecting the Availability of Effective Treatment

Overcrowding of Jails and Prisons

Overcrowding of jails and prisons is a leading factor as to why inmates with drug dependency problems are not enrolled in these programs. The overcrowding of jails leads to an increase in the length of the waiting lists to enter drug treatment programs. In addition to overcrowding, staff shortages and limited resources are part of the issue of low enrollment in drug treatment programs.[8]

Need for Trauma-Informed Care

Incarcerated prisoners are marked by considerable diversity, yet they share a common experience of incarceration. Prisons can be violent, harsh, psychologically damaging environments; incarcerated people live in an environment that is both depersonalizing and dehumanizing. Moreover, the social stigma associated with incarceration, combined with the depersonalizing effects of imprisonment, may result in a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness, as well as deeply internalized shame and guilt. Thus, in addition to treating substance abuse and other mental disorders, the consensus panel recommends that in-prison treatment also address the trauma of the incarceration itself as well as a prison culture that conflicts with treatment goals.[9]


Residential Substance Abuse Training RSAT training and technical assistance tool

Tools & Resources

TR - Enhance Treatment During Incarceration

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