Prisons in the United States have a reputation for having the highest prison population in the world. According to the Washington Post, 716 for every 100,000 people serve some time in jail. This adds up to 2.3 million inmates, many struggling with active and unrelenting addiction.
Figuring out how to support drug addicts in jail seems like a simple ask. Still, it is not easy, especially for family and friends who cannot directly work with them to get the treatment they need immediately.
In this blog post, we will discuss the tie between addiction and incarceration in more detail and answer the common question, “What happens when an addict goes to jail?” Continue reading to learn more and get advice to help your loved one sooner.
Understanding the Life of Drug Addicts in Jail
Over 80% of prisoners struggle with active substance abuse when incarcerated.
According to a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, over 65% of inmates in the U.S. were clinically addicted to some substance.
Even though 1.5 million people in prisons were struggling with abuse, treatment has been sparse. The same study found that only 11% received any treatment for substance abuse disorder at all while they were incarcerated.
The Tie Between Drug Dependency and Crime for Addicts in Jail
Although a majority of addicts are in jail, they don’t necessarily get incarcerated for using or possessing drugs. Addiction can influence people in many other ways, eventually leading to different types of crime and incarceration.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), only 6% of inmates in state prisons were incarcerated for drug possession, and only 18% had other drug offenses.
So, why are so many addicts in jail?
According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, aside from participating in the violent system of drug production and trafficking, there are two main ways drug addiction often results in incarceration:
- Drugs and alcohol affect a person’s behavior and thoughts. Some people commit crimes while under the influence because of this altered state.
- In trying to obtain an illegal substance or alcohol, some addicts commit crimes, like robbery or prostitution, to obtain money.
What Happens When an Addict Goes to Jail?
Jail environments can be challenging for individuals struggling with addiction. Exposure to other incarcerated individuals with substance abuse issues, limited access to support networks, and the stress of incarceration can increase the risk of relapse or exacerbate addiction-related issues.
When an addict goes to jail, several outcomes can occur, depending on various factors, such as the jurisdiction’s policies, the individual’s circumstances, and the nature of their drug or alcohol addiction.
Some of the most common outcomes for drug addicts in jail include
- Withdrawal and Detoxification
When incarcerated, especially early on, an addict may experience withdrawal symptoms if they are using drugs or alcohol regularly. Some correctional facilities provide medical care to manage addiction withdrawal symptoms and ensure the safety and well-being of the individual.
- Treatment Programs
Some correctional facilities offer addiction treatment programs, including counseling, therapy, and support groups. These programs aim to address the underlying causes of addiction, promote sobriety, and provide necessary tools for recovery in and out of jail.
While incarceration alone does not guarantee recovery, some individuals may use their time in jail as an opportunity for self-reflection and personal growth. If available, participation in treatment programs, educational opportunities, and counseling can contribute to positive changes and pave the way for a healthier, drug-free life post-release.
It’s important to note that the specific outcomes for addicts in jail can vary significantly depending on the jurisdiction’s approach to addiction, the availability of resources, and individual circumstances.
Efforts that combine incarceration with comprehensive addiction treatment and post-release support tend to yield more positive results in addressing addiction and reducing recidivism rates. Still, few jails or prisons offer these treatment options with open arms.
Supporting Addicts in Jail Is Crucial to Prevent Relapse
Crime and drugs are linked, but treatment and an effective support system are apparent solutions.
Unfortunately, most prisons and jails fail to provide the appropriate support for those with addictions.
Addiction is a disease, and simply eliminating access to drugs or alcohol does not effectively treat addiction, especially in the long term.
According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, 95% of drug addicts in jail use drugs again after they’re released, and 60% to 80% will commit a new crime, often related to their drug addiction.
Just as troubling, overdose is exceptionally high once inmates are released from prison. The risk of overdose can increase 129 times and is highest the first 2 weeks after release according to an article published in Addiction Science & Clinical Practice.
This is why it’s so important to support addicts and provide them with quality treatment while they’re incarcerated.
How to Effectively Support a Drug Addict in Jail
Prisons and jails are not ideal for treating substance abuse, but there are many ways to increase support so addicts have a better chance of recovery.
Some of the most effective ways to support a drug addict in jail are to
Treat prisoners the way people in the community are treated
The World Health Organization argues that prisoners should receive the same kinds of treatment outside of prison. However, this rarely happens.
In state prisons, 70% of inmates aren’t treated in inpatient hospitals or special units. Instead, they stay with the rest of the prison population. And even though 73% of jails provide some treatment or programs, only 32.1% offer detoxification, while 29.6% have educational programs about drugs and addiction.
However, findings show that the best way to successfully treat addiction and prevent relapse is to provide detoxification, behavioral counseling, and medication as well as treat co-occurring mental health issues and stay involved in a long-term follow-up program.
Providing addicts in jail with the same tested and professional care they’d find outside prison is essential to successful treatment and support.
Provide drug replacement therapies
Studies show that drug replacement therapies can effectively treat and prevent relapse. In the case of methadone, a popular drug used to replace opioids, it can be as high as 70% effective.
These types of drugs reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings. After release from prison, they can also help prevent recidivism by providing a less dangerous, prescription alternative to illegal substances. While often effective, most prisons do not utilize it.
According to the NIH, surveys showed that only 55% of prisons offered methadone, and only half gave it out in specific circumstances. Usually, it was only prescribed for pregnant women, people with chronic pain, or those who were detoxing.
Providing these drugs and referring addicts to treatment centers that can give to them once they’re released can be crucial in treating addiction and preventing relapse.
Treat for co-occurring disorders, not just addiction
Many people who have an addiction also have a mental health disorder.
In most cases, treating one without considering the other is ineffective.
Prisons must start providing dual diagnosis and integrated treatments to support addicts with co-occurring disorders.
Even the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration admits that the justice system is “ill-equipped” to treat people with co-occurring disorders properly. Most lack programs that provide treatment for both issues, and the justice system does a poor job of detecting them in the first place.
Better screening from the moment someone comes in contact with the justice system and providing specialists who can treat co-occurring disorders are the only ways to support addicts who also need mental health services effectively.
Build connections with aftercare programs
Ideally, rehabilitation programs provide addicts with contacts and resources in their communities to help them manage cravings and concerns once they return to their communities.
The American Psychological Association reports that treatment combined with aftercare can be particularly effective at preventing recidivism and future drug use. Prisons should strive to build connections to community-based aftercare programs and provide resources and referrals to prisoners.
Educate inmates about drug addiction
One of the barriers to treatment in prisons is a lack of knowledge about drug addiction. Many addicts in jail are under the misconception that needing treatment is a sign of weakness. Educating about addiction, explaining its causes and effects, dealing with cravings, and preventing relapse are essential.
Give inmates the skills they need to reintegrate into their communities
Most addicts in jail lack the specific skills necessary to function and be successful in society. Many haven’t finished high school, may not know how to read, and may have had unstable family lives.
To find a job after prison and become financially and emotionally stable, prisons must provide inmates with opportunities to develop financial, social, and emotional skills. This approach will decrease their want to use drugs or alcohol after leaving the prison system.
Include family in the treatment process
Addiction is often considered a family disease because it affects everyone the addict in jail is close to. Given the influence addiction has on family and a family’s possible role in enabling addiction, it’s often a good idea to include them in the process.
Many family members may struggle to understand their loved one’s addiction and their own contradictory emotions. They may also have trouble understanding addiction and recovery and can benefit from education and support.
Family tension from years of struggle may also need to be addressed, and family therapy can help tackle some underlying issues.
Provide alternative programs to prisoners whenever possible
Some addicts in jail might qualify for an alternative program such as the Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities (TASC) or Drug Courts.
This effectively removes addicts from the prison environment and provides more focused and targeted treatment. Usually, these programs also have higher success rates.
Personalized Addiction Treatment After Incarceration in Utah
Addicts in jail are in a unique situation, but they need the same quality support offered to those struggling with substance use disorder who aren’t in prison. Incarcerated addicts also face challenges and barriers to treatment that need to be addressed within the criminal justice system.
The good news? Addiction is a disease, but it is treatable. If you or a loved one has an addiction, getting help is the first step.
For incarcerated addicts, advocating for screening, treatment, resources, education, and relapse prevention are some of the ways to support addicts on their journey toward recovery.
If you feel someone you love is dealing with addiction after incarceration, we can help. We encourage you to reach out to us to get the help you need sooner.