It’s common knowledge that a vast majority of the U.S. prison population is suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. Despite having months, years or even decades to work on themselves and overcome the chains of chemical dependency, almost none of these inmates receive the treatment they need.
A Troubling Trend
Sarah Wakeman from Harvard Medical School notes that less than 10 percent of people who are incarcerated with a drug problem ever receives residential treatment. What’s more, less than 1 percent of them ever get detox services.
This is particularly troubling when prisoners are released back into society and they still don’t have the tools to cope with addiction triggers. In short, they’re bound to go right back to abusing once released from prison.
A new study published in The Lancet Psychiatry reports one-third of all deaths from former male prisoners and half of former female prisoners were caused by alcohol and drug misuse.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
Seena Fazel, lead researcher and a Professor of Forensic Psychiatry at the University of Oxford in the U.K., led a team that examined the 47,326 prisoners released in Sweden between January 2000 and December 2009. What they found was beyond disturbing.
The scientists noted that about 6 percent of all the prisoners (2,874) died within the first five years of their release. Among those who died from alcohol and drug-related causes, 42 percent of the male deaths and 70 percent of the female deaths came from preventable causes like accidental overdoses or suicide.
How Can We Improve?
Although Sweden’s incarceration rate is low compared to most of the world, the prevalence of substance abuse and mental illness among this population is comparable to that of the U.K. and U.S.
“Our striking findings show the potential for preventive and therapeutic programs to reduce the number of deaths from alcohol and substance misuse, which are highly prevalent among the 30 million people worldwide who spend time in prison every year. Although alcohol abuse is as common as drug abuse, and the high mortality risks following release are similar, it does not receive the same level of attention or funding,” said Professor Fazel.
Drug treatment in American prisons is even more crucial today. Some states are even taking steps to reduce long prison sentences for those convicted as a result of non-violent drug possession crimes.
Last November, Prop 47 in California was overwhelmingly passed, reducing drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. Approximately 10,000 inmates across the state can now ask for sentencing and many behind bars in county jail would be able to be released immediately.
Although prisons have a responsibility to safely hold offenders, they also have a responsibility to rehabilitate and help them become productive citizens. Drug treatment is a key component to helping address a number of the issues that land people in prison and make sure they don’t return again.
Additional Reading:7 Shocking Ways Drugs are Smuggled into Prisons
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