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Prison, Jail and Addiction

by Ned Wicker
(Wisconsin)

If you ask somebody if the criminal justice system (prison or jail) can be of benefit to a drug addict your likely to get a negative response to that question. People will say that the system is for punishment, not for treatment of drug addiction. But research suggests that treatment and prisons can be complimentary. Sometimes the court-ordered rehabilitation is an ideal situation.

More likely to stay in treatment

For starters, people who are in custody are more likely to stay in treatment than those who are not. Whether or not the treatment is voluntary doesn’t seem to be a major factor. Addicts are almost always the last one to admit they have a problem, so the criminal justice system can be an effective way to meet the needs of the addict, and probably before the healthcare system or social services can effectively respond.

Rehab can replace jail

The drug rehabilitation can take place in lieu of jail or prison time, or if an addict is behind bars, the treatment can move forward. It’s important for those ordered into treatment to understand that treatment is a far better choice than incarceration. If the judge says take the treatment, he/she is not only giving you a break, he/she is helping your recovery. Avoiding prisons and addiction treatment can be a good way to get the addict to enter treatment.

Prisons and addiction treatment are as varied as the treatment options on the outside. There are classes, self-help programs and medical care. The therapeutic community in a prison setting is also conducive to drug rehabilitation, as it works to prevent relapses and any accompanying criminal activity. Inmates who are participating in rehab are segregated from the general prison population. This is done to help them stay clear of the bad influences.

What is gained in the treatment can be lost quickly when the addict returns to the general population. The best situation is for the addict to stay in treatment while behind bars, and continue with that treatment on the outside.

Courts may be good arbiters

Drug courts are proving to be good arbiters of prisons and addiction cases, because they have the authority to order treatment, issue sanctions and facilitates a treatment plan. When a person goes into the system, they are followed by the court through the process, and if needed, the court can intervene and change the treatment program to meet the individual needs of the addict.

Helping an addict recover is cheaper in the long run than allowing him/her to continue the drug/ lifestyle and dealing with all of the medical and legal issues that go along with that lifestyle.

No two drug treatment programs are alike nor should they be. The important thing to keep in mind is that other than denying a person access to drugs, successful treatment hinges on an individual’s willingness to be treated. The criminal justice system can easily turn its back on an addict and just jail them. But when the criminal justice system provides the catalyst for recovery, the addict stands a much better chance of recovery. It’s all about management of the problem.

Often people who begin treatment once the criminal justice system has entered into the equation are well down the road to destroying their lives. The courts may be the last opportunity a person has to turn around and start the road to recovery. Perhaps a person has not yet hit bottom. When that does happen, the system might be the only thing that saves them.


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