Addiction and Incarceration: A Deadly Combination

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Drug Addiction and Incarceration: Female Addicts Dying Behind Bars

Addiction and Incarceration

RH Reality Check has recently developed a Women, Incarcerated series investigating systemic abuses of women in prisons and jails across the nation. Their most recent article focuses on the large amount of incarcerated women struggling with drug dependence and dying in prisons and jails due to a lack of treatment. This is an incredibly important topic that does not receive enough press and media attention. The deaths of these drug dependent incarcerated women were preventable, but the jails and prisons did nothing to help these women survive their dangerous detoxes. Corrections facilities need to completely change the way they handle both male and female inmates’ drug addictions. Drug addiction and incarceration is a pressing and urgent issue and action needs to be taken immediately.

Addiction and Incarceration: The Immense Impact on Female Inmates

There is a definite relationship between addiction and incarceration. Incarcerated women have extremely high rates of drug dependency. A report from the United States Department of Justice found that 82% of incarcerated women are struggling with a serious substance abuse disorder. This rate is much higher than incarcerated men who reported a rate of 44%. Two thirds of women in prison were charged with non-violent crimes, often related to addiction, poverty, and mental illness. According to the US Department of Justice, in 2010, more than 25% of female prisoners were incarcerated for drug crimes. Without providing adequate and effective drug treatment, the United States’ correction facilities are essentially punishing people for their drug and alcohol addictions. Another striking report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicated that between 2010-11, incarcerated females were almost twice as likely than men to die from drug and/or alcohol intoxication while in jail or prison.

Addiction and Incarceration: A Deadly Combination

The detoxification process from drugs and alcohol is not only extremely uncomfortable, but it is also potentially fatal. Suddenly stopping alcohol consumption can be fatal, and opiate withdrawal can cause death due to severe dehydration and other serious medical conditions. Given this, drug and alcohol detox should be medically supervised.

At many jails and prisons, drug and alcohol withdrawal procedures are not routinely followed, resulting in deadly consequences for the inmates. A shortage of adequate funding and personnel is often the reason provided when the lack of substance abuse treatment in jails and prisons is questioned. The executive director of a nonprofit in Illinois that provides addiction treatment services to numerous correctional facilities, Bruce Carter, stated that incarcerated females are often eager for treatment, as they are motivated to get better for their children. Carter reported that the treatment works — women who complete the treatment program are far less likely to return to prison. Unfortunately, many of these addiction treatment programs designed to help addicted incarcerated females are shutting down across the nation.

Drug treatment for women in jails and prisons is inadequate, inconsistent, and at times, fatal. According to the RH Reality Check article, a woman named Tracy Veira was found dead in her cell as a result of severe dehydration from a deadly detox. According to other inmates, Veira begged the guards to help her day after day, but her requests were blatantly ignored. During her one week in jail, Veira lost 20 pounds and eventually died because her digestive system shut down due to severe dehydration as a result of drug withdrawal.

Addiction and Incarceration: We Need Change Now

This issue of incarcerated females dying from a lack of treatment while in custody is shocking and deeply disturbing. I am incredibly grateful to RH Reality Check for investigating and calling attention to this major problem in the United States. Raising awareness about the deadly consequences of a lack of substance abuse treatment in our jails and prisons is the first step to bringing about change for many incarcerated individuals struggling with a drug and/or alcohol addiction.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a drug addiction, the time to get help is now. Contact Addiction Intervention Now today at 844.723.9256, and let us get you the help and support you need to recover from your drug and/or alcohol addiction.