Drug Detox and Treatment in Jail and Prison

Drug detox and treatment in jail or prison isn’t guaranteed to any addict or alcoholic. In fact, depending on the state and locality, the crime/s, sentence and a number of other variables, it’s possible that some addicts will receive no detox or treatment care whatsoever. This is a troubling issue considering the severe stress and potential medical danger of symptoms related to sudden abstinence and the resulting acute withdrawal. For most addicts facing jail or prison time, whether treatment is available or not is largely dependent upon luck.

Temporary Holding in Small Local Jails

For some addicts the worst situation possible is incarceration in a small local jail for a period of more than 24 hours. For instance, incarceration over a holiday weekend – when no arraignments or public processes occur – could mean that even a chronic addict or alcoholic may be forced to withdraw for a period of 3 or more days.

Small rural jails often have little to no detox resources available for inmates and subsequently even severe addicts are forced to “cold turkey” quit. For people who are addicted to substances like alcohol and benzodiazepine, withdrawal could prove dangerous and in some cases fatal without proper medical treatment. Opiate addicts (heroin, morphine, Oxycontin, Fentanyl, etc) are also at risk of complications related to withdrawal; including a high propensity for suicide.

Addicts who are placed in this type of situation are advised to politely but firmly state the nature of their addiction and request medical assistance of some type. When able to make a phone call, family members should be contacted to press the facility to provide care.

Larger City, Regional and State Jails

Larger city, regional and state jails are often better funded than small local jails and therefore offer some types of detox and treatment for drug addiction or alcoholism. In some cases this includes opiate replacement therapy and other types of medically-managed detox programs.

Because most jails house inmates for short periods of time, long term treatment – especially residential inpatient treatment – is generally not available. Instead, city, state and regional jails provide drug education and connect addicts with ongoing resources in the community to continue their recovery efforts “on the outside.” Often some components of these recovery efforts are mandated by the courts upon release and are enforced by a probation officer.

Recently city and regional jails have been motivated to improve their care of addicts after a surge in the number of lawsuits alleging that lack of care led to inmate deaths. Indeed, many of the cases are extremely compelling, and, regardless of fault, saddening. Unfortunately, many jails across the country are behind the times when it comes to detox, withdrawal and treatment for addicted inmates.

Bureau of Prisons

The Bureau of Prisons or BOP is a group of 117 prisons mostly managed by the federal government, with some contractor prisons as well. All of these institutions offer some type of detox and/or drug treatment including drug abuse education, non-residential drug abuse treatment and residential drug abuse treatment. (The Federal Bureau of Prisons Annual Report on Substance Abuse Treatment Programs. Fiscal Year 2011 Report to the Judiciary Committee United States Congress, as Required by the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 December 2011)

While the BOP does claim some success as a result of its detox and treatment programs, there’s one troubling issue that detracts from any true progress: drugs are still easy to obtain in many prisons. In fact, a 2010 Washington Times article claims that because of liberal visitation policies and prolific cell phone smuggling, inmates are even able to conduct regular drug sales – including sales on the outside – all from the confines of their cell walls. (Drugs Inside Prison Walls The Washington Times 01/27/2010)

This means that despite the mandatory nature of many BOP drug treatment programs, it’s likely that a large percentage of inmates participating in such programs are in reality still finding it easy to procure and use drugs while behind bars. And with many facilities being consumed by drug culture, safely detoxing from drugs while in a federal prison might be impossible for some addicts.

Private Prisons

Private prisons are for-profit corporations that have come under fire in recent years for a number of alleged violations, including lack of detox facilities or drug treatment for incarcerated addicts and alcoholics. However, there seems to be a legitimate divide in the number of people who believe private prisons to be effective and those that do not.

Some people, like Alexander Tabarrok – a noted research director and assistance professor of economics at George Mason University – claim that private prisons offer significant public benefits in the way of reduced taxpayer burden, increased prison systems efficiencies and a higher level of overall care than public prisons. (Tabarrok, Alexander Private Prisons Have Public Benefits The Independent Institute)

However, others, like investigative journalist Maria Hinojosa, claim that because private prisons are private, they are not required to reveal the data necessary to determine if private prisons are indeed more effective;

“I couldn’t find out how many drug offenders or other prisoners at Crowley end up back behind bars because nobody is keeping track. And I couldn’t find out if the numbers of assaults in this prison had gone up or down since the riot, because those records are not available to the public. These kind of statistics are treated as privileged information by private prison companies.” (Hinojosa, Maria Reporter’s Notebook: Inside a Private Prison 05/09/08.)

In either case, many private prisons do offer treatment programs and medical detox in some cases, but each prison is different and so offerings and funding to maintain programs vary. Additionally, private prisons are not immune to inmate substance abuse and drug deals.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with a drug problem, don’t let an arrest and conviction cause you to find out what detox and treatment is like at the jail or prison near you. Reach out for help now, and avoid legal troubles altogether. After all, being forced to clean up just because you do some jail time doesn’t make you any more likely to stay clean once you get out. It has to be a choice you make on your own, and it has to be a choice you make right now.

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