Addiction is a disease. It has been recognized as a disease since 1987. Addiction leads to poor decisions in life and often leads to legal problems. Drug and alcohol-related problems are two of the leading contributions of incarceration and arraignments. Per BOP.gov statistics it is estimated that about 46.3% of inmates are currently incarcerated for drug and alcohol-related offenses throughout the United States (BOP, 2017). Having experience working as an AOD counselor in a correctional facility, I find the toughest challenges and clientele are those that are repeat offenders that have battled addiction their entire lives. As an AOD counselor, I also noticed those with severe opioid and alcohol addiction show characteristics of having jail mentality from being frequently institutionalized in the jail setting and most of their stories originate from their addictive lifestyle.
When the client successfully completes treatment, it is estimated that one out of three will relapse. At first, people may wonder why one would relapse after having a significant amount of sobriety. However, being in a locked down facility does not expose the clients to the reality they face with being an addict. I would compare this to domesticated animal verses one that is wild. The domesticated animal is controlled and not faced with trials or tribulations because of being protected by its owner. The wild animal, however, is exposed to all and survives with no owner, rather with others of its own kind. In a locked down facility with no ability to make a choice or to be exposed how would one expect to stay clean once they are released? As human beings, we learn through trial and error. Therefore, the vicious cycle of addiction will continue until one is treated and can grasp their coping strategies daily through the environment they surround themselves with. The answer is not to limit the person behind a wall to prevent them from using. Rather, it is allowing the person to seek the help that is needed, to gain the desire to build a sober network, and to make the choice to heal themselves. For example, would you send a cancer patient to jail without treating the individual? The jail can attempt to accommodate the individual, however, the jail is not equipped to handle such medical necessities or capability to treat that particular patient.
I am not disagreeing with certain circumstances of why one is incarcerated. However, can society expect one to be clean after being in a locked down facility for an extended period of time with no exposure to the reality they face? The person ultimately has the choice to treat his/ her addiction. However, when released and exposed to the triggers and cravings of their drug of choice, can they be expected not to relapse? This is the untreated part of the addiction and for that reason, the person re-offends and ends up back where it all started. I believe that as a society, we look at this as a moral flaw. However, looking at it from the addict’s perspective of being in a locked down facility will only allow them to focus on the shame/guilt and in return, manifest the disease.
The court system has gained insight and knowledge of this epidemic. The judges are referring people to treatment and attempting to combat this epidemic. However, the issue remains at large with the number of those currently still incarcerated with addiction. The struggle behind the walls of correctional facilities is whether the addict truly belongs there. Does it serve a purpose if the person re-offends and continues the behavior repeatedly if the person is sick? If the person is truly addicted and cannot stop would actual treatment outside of the correctional facility’s walls be the most appropriate solution to this problem? If society wishes to make a change in this epidemic then it must change; starting with the stigma. Only when we come together and realize that there is a life outside of these walls will we ever truly be set free and able to make the change that is desired.