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Are Jails Failing To Help Drug Addicts?

Here’s a simple question that will likely take a lot of thought: What’s the one thing you couldn’t live without?

Now that you have that special item in mind, what if you were told you couldn’t have it for a certain amount of time. Knowing that would more than likely make you want it that much more, right? That’s how Judge Robert Francis feels about donuts.
In fact, he loves the bakery sweets so much that he freely admits, if you sent him to prison for a year and denied him access to his delicious donuts, the first thing he’d do when he got out would be to run down to the nearest donut shop and pig out. He likens it to making up for lost time.

Judge Francis knows that the time spent behind bars wouldn’t do anything to change his donut obsession – it’d just make him crave donuts even more than he already did. What’s this got to do with breaking the cycle of addiction and thriving in recovery? Turns out Judge Francis uses this unique parallel when drug offenders stand before him in the courtroom.

Crime and Punishment

Knowing how much more addictive drugs are than sugary pastries, Judge Francis rightly points out that it’s much harder for former inmates to control their cravings once released.

It should come as no surprise to learn that a vast majority of addicts return to using after released from jail. After all, locking people up doesn’t solve the problem – it just buys a little time before they relapse, re-offend and perpetuate the endless cycle.

Prison, on its own, doesn’t teach an addict how to change their way of thinking, identify triggers or utilize strategies that can prevent a relapse. Prescribing treatment, on the other hand, offers a real alternative to interrupt the drug use/criminal justice cycle for offenders with drug problems.

Despite knowing the value of treatment programs, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University discovered that only 11 percent of inmates with substance abuse and addiction disorders receive any kind of treatment during incarceration.

What’s more, the treatment typically offered to inmates comes in the form of “occasional mutual support or peer counseling meetings.”

It’s Time for Change

Offering addiction treatment programs to inmates not only benefits the individual, it benefits society as a whole. A 2010 CASA study found that, if all the inmates who needed it were provided quality addiction treatment and aftercare services, the nation would see economic benefits in just one year. And that’s if no more than 10 percent of the treated inmates remained sober, crime-free and gainfully employed.

In terms of monetary value, that translates to an annual savings of more than $90,000 per former inmate. No matter how you look at it, treatment and the opportunity to achieve sobriety is a much better way to spend our tax dollars.