Failure to Properly Treat Inmates who Struggle with Substance Abuse

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) mission statement asserts, We enhance public safety through safe and secure incarceration of offenders, effective parole supervision, and rehabilitative strategies to successfully reintegrate offenders into our communities (Rehabilitation, 2017). Don’t let the word Rehabilitation in their name fool you into thinking this is actually what they are accomplishing with the few drug programs and services in place behind their prison walls. Drug abuse is running rampant in California prisons. Just today I read a news article about San Quentin State Prison and how they have has a spike in opioid overdoses averaging about one overdose a month. The Bureau of Justice Statistics claims that 76.9% of drug offenders get arrested for a new crime within five years of their release, implicating that drug offenders have among the highest recidivism rates of all prisoners (Matthew R. Durose, 2014). The aim of this paper is to examine this problem by looking at the current drug treatment options available in CDCR’s facilities, explain why they fail to properly treat drug addictions, as well as to explore possible alternative options.

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Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain. It is considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness. Drug rehabilitation is the process of medical or psychotherapeutic treatment for dependency on psychoactive substances such as alcohol, prescription drugs, and street drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or amphetamines. Treatment includes medication for depression or other disorders, counseling by experts and sharing of experience with other addicts. According to CDCR’s Division of Rehabilitative Programs branch, they provide numerous rehabilitative programs and services to both prison offenders and parolees, to help offenders leave prison so they can succeed in their futures despite past obstacles. All of CDCR’s rehabilitative programs are offered on the basis that the offender is serving, or has served, their time on good behavior and if the services are determined to be in need. As I reviewed their website, I saw a list of their programs offered and I was only able to allocate one that was listed as a Substance Use Disorder service. The only other service I saw that was similarly related was called Substance Abuse Treatment and Recovery Program, except that is only offered to inmates who are 4 years from their release date.

To find out more about the type of drug rehabilitation taking place inside CDCR’s prisons and their effectiveness, I interviewed two inmates, one which I will call Travieso and the other which I will call Cholo. Travieso is serving his 13th year of his 15 year sentence at California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison (SATF). Cholo is serving his 10th year of his 13 year sentence at California State Prison Los Angeles County (CSP-LAC). Between the two of them, they have done time in nine different California prisons including: Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, California State Prison (CSP) Los Angeles County, CSP Sacramento, CSP Corcoran, Folsom State Prison, Kern Valley State Prison, Salinas Valley State Prison, Calipatria State Prison, and California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison Corcoran. This has given them the opportunity to experience how these facilities differ from each other, witness the drug problems, and see what programs and services are offered to inmates who struggle with substance abuse. I asked them both a series of questions and to no surprise, their answers seemed to echo each other.

Through my interviews with Cholo and Travieso, I quickly realized that the CDCR’s website has a way of glorifying their focus and efforts on rehabilitation. From the information I received from these inmates and my research, there is only one drug program offered in prison, and it’s called Narcotics Anonymous (NA). From what was described to me, NA is an inmate-led peer support group for recovering addicts, where they share their experiences/stories and follow a 12-step program. There is no real addiction counseling or intervention from doctors or therapists. This class always has a long waiting list to get into, which can be about a year wait or longer. The waiting game often discourages inmates from signing up, unless they have a parole date coming up.

In CSP-LAC, each yard offers two NA classes, each made up of 30 inmates, and lasts one year long. Each yard houses about 1000 inmates, which means that the drug rehabilitative program (NA) can only be utilized by 6% of the prison population per year. In addition to this, once inmates finish their NA program, they go back to their routine prison life, dealing with the drugs and temptations on their own. Prisons do have program counselors, but both Cholo and Travieso say that their counselors don’t really care, which makes meaningful treatment difficult. Meaningful treatment cannot be achieved in a place where staff members are also often the same ones smuggling in contraband and drugs into the prison for a nice extra payoff. Staff members whose mission is supposedly to successfully reintegrate offenders into our communities, contradict that with their crooked actions. They are not helping, they are setting them up for serious failure and to be stuck in this toxic addiction cycle.

To find out more about these inmates feelings, views, and opinions on this issue, I asked them, What do you think contributes to the drug addiction problem inside prison? Travieso claimed that prisons lacked programs to keep inmates productive. At SATF they are regularly put on lockdown and Travieso believes that the reason most inmates turn to drugs is because they are bored, depressed, stressed and tired of the same routine of daily prison life with nothing to look forward to but walls. Similarly, Cholo said , emotional distress is the reason why drug addiction is a problem in prisonjust waking up and realizing you’re in prison makes you miserable and you just want to find an escape. I took some time to reflect on their words and realized that while in prison, these inmates suffer imprisonment in many different forms: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual”and they have no one to positively support them, leaving them nothing else to turn except violence and drugs.

After my research and interviews I was able to conclude that the idea of rehabilitation in CDCR’s prisons is great in theory, but not in practice. There is a dire need for more programs that support drug addiction recovery inside prisons. The more programs there are, the less waiting lists, and more of the inmate population will have access to self-help. This may include services such as addiction counseling, mental health services, drug detox, behavioral therapy, doctor visits, and more interaction with experts who genuinely are there to rehabilitate. Having regular visits by counselors, psychiatrists, therapists and physicians will provide inmates with a dependable support system and consistency. Instead of continuing to lock down humans that are already locked up, CDCR should give them something productive to do. By providing more jobs or even hobby classes, inmates can have something to look forward to, something to get them out of their cell and temporarily escape their repetitive routine in hell. Art, music, and crafts are just some examples of therapeutic ways inmates can express themselves and relieve physical tension, mental stress, and emotional anxiety. Until CDCR give inmates opportunities to participate in healthier, more positive options, drugs and violence will continue to be the easiest form of dealing with the physical, mental, and emotional trauma of life in prison.

Sustained drug use in prison is explained by the fact that many prisoners suffer from drug addiction and dependency, and their drug taking in prison is seen as a continuation of their addictive and habitual behaviors in the period before imprisonment. I wanted to further explore the perceptions on drug use from the group who uses drugs (prisoners) and the group who tries to prevent, detect, sanction and treat drug use (prison staff) in prison. Prison staff emphasizes drug addiction and prisoners troubled life trajectories when explaining in-prison drug use. Prisoners, on the other hand, explain that drug use can be a way to alleviate some of the pains of imprisonment; an integral part of social life in prison; a route to status in the prisoner community and a defiant way to subvert institutional rules and expectations. Imprisonment as such does not appear to motivate prisoners to reduce their drug taking behavior in prison.

It is argued that the extent of drug use in prisons derives from a complex interaction between factors such as availability, drug control strategies and the drugs psychopharmacological properties (Mland, 2016). Marijuana and heroin are the most commonly used prion drugs because both drug types are reported to aid relaxation, relieve stress and counteract boredom. More specifically, heroin’s attraction lies partly in the way that it kills time, alleviates anxiety and allows the user a temporary escape from reality. The use of these drugs makes prisoners better able to cope with the hardships of imprisonment. Drug use is thus interpreted as a form of self-medication and as a coping strategy.

One thing both parties can agree to is that illicit drugs are running rampant in our prison system. The availability of these drugs inside prison walls becomes an inhibiting factor for rehabilitation. How can you stay away from drugs when it’s surrounding you? In addition to that, there is not just drug addicts in prison, there are also drug dealers. Drug dealers in prison are prone to using various tactics to preserve the number of drug users within the institution to maintain their lucrative business and keep their profits high. This type of peer pressure can be coupled with intimidation, threats, and violence as well.

These inmates are confined to their tiny cells for most of their days, which often times can be tedious and boring. This can cause psychological deterioration as well as physical soreness, aches, and pains that can develop from being limited in movement due to their limited space. Knowing that you have to serve a sentence in prison is sometimes a harsh reality to accept and not all inmates know how to just do their time productively. Inmates that go to school and work inside the prison at least have something going for themselves. They are able to get out of their confined spaces for a few hours. When this is not the case, inmates will seek out drug use in order to provide them with a sense of purpose to their day.

In conclusion, research and studies done on drug use in prison has been correlated back to both the deprivation and importation models. The deprivation model implies that drug use might well be a means of adapting to the pressures of confinement, and adaptation that might occur independently of outside prison influences (Woodall, 2010). This implies that a substantial number of inmates become involved in drug use only after they have been confined. The importation model would create a direct link between pre-prison experience and prison behavior (Woodall, 2010). The implication with regard to drug use would be that drug use inside the prison is associated with influences outside the prison, whether that be pre-prison involvement in drug use, or the way they were brought up and other life experiences.

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Failure to Properly Treat Inmates Who Struggle With Substance Abuse. (2019, Mar 18). Retrieved December 2, 2022 , from

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