Despite widespread understanding of the disease model of addiction, substance use is still perceived as a criminal act. Every year, 1.16 million Americans are arrested for the sale, manufacture, or possession of illicit substances. Incarceration is a common punishment for drug-related crimes, with the National Institutes of Health estimating that 65% of the U.S. prison population have an active substance use disorder.
But does incarceration alone help these individuals address their addiction issues? A 2021 report by the U.S. Department of Justice found that 65% of all justice-involved individuals released after serving time for a drug offense were re-arrested within three years. At 10 years after release, the number rose to 81%. With the clear majority of people incarcerated for drug-related crimes being re-arrested, it would seem incarceration alone offers little deterrence.
Improving Outcomes for Justice-Involved Individuals
The implementation of diversion programs, drug courts, and substance use treatment programming in the correctional setting shows promise in the effort to lower recidivism rates. This is especially true when treatment programming is paired with reintegration and recovery resources post-release.
A journal in the National Library of Medicine found that “Individuals who participated in prison-based treatment followed by a community-based program post incarceration were 7 times more likely to be drug free and 3 times less likely to be arrested for criminal behavior than those not receiving treatment.” Still, fewer than 20% of incarcerated individuals with a history of substance use receive formal treatment in the corrections setting.
Luckily, the push for addiction treatment programming in the correctional setting is gaining momentum. Each year, Spectrum Health Systems provides treatment services for more than 5,700 individuals in the Massachusetts correctional system. And now Massachusetts lawmakers are reviewing a bill that aims to broaden treatment resources for justice-involved individuals.
Utilizing Treatment Rather than Incarceration
The bill, which is known as, “An act relative to treatment, not imprisonment,” concerns drug-related probation violations. Currently, if a person’s probation stipulates that they stay free of alcohol and substances, but they end up failing a drug test, they receive a probation violation which can result in their reincarceration.
The bill specifies that if an individual is following their treatment plan, relapse would no longer be considered a probation violation. The bill’s sponsors feel that relapse is merely a symptom of the disease of addiction, and that threatening someone on probation with incarceration only serves to hinder their recovery.
While the bill has not yet passed, it’s a prime example of how legislation can be used to broaden access to treatment and improve outcomes for justice-involved individuals. With more people receiving treatment for their disease—as opposed to punishment—we can all look forward to a brighter future.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction or a substance use disorder, call Spectrum Health Systems today at 1-877-MyRehab.