Tag: prison

The Deadly Toll of Addiction After Prison

Jails & Prisons Have a Serious Drug Problem

That much almost goes without saying, right? Thanks to popular shows like The Wire, Lockup , and Oz, we know that drugs and alcohol are plentiful in prison.

prison jail drug deaths

What we may not have known though, or what I certainly didn’t know, was the true extent of this problem. According to new research, 50% of female former prisoners’ deaths are directly linked to drugs.

Give that a moment to sink in. Half of all women released from prison will die due to a drug related cause. That seems out of control.

This new research comes to us from Professor Seena Fazel, a Professor of Forensic Psychiatry at the University of Oxford. It was published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry this past April.

Keep reading to learn why drug related deaths are so prevalent among former prisoners and what can be done to help them!

Shocking Statistics on Drug Deaths

I mentioned above how popular television can shape our perceptions of jail and prison. Well, it isn’t only the media. According to Professor Fazel and his team, there have been studies conducted in the past which confirm the pervasiveness of substance abuse and mental illness in prisons.

It looks like these past studies didn’t reveal the full extent of the problem though. Fazel and his team examined the records of over 45,000 former prisoners in Sweden. They studied nine years worth of data from 2000 to 2009.

What Fazel and his researchers found is shocking. Taking into account various nondrug related factors (the nature of prisoners’ crimes, socio-demographic factors, and genetics), the team concluded that 34% of deaths among former male prisoners and 50% of deaths among former female prisoners were caused by drugs and alcohol.

I’ll repeat that once more because, frankly, I find it hard to believe. 34% of all men released from prison died because of substance abuse. As if that wasn’t enough, half of all women released from prison died because of substance abuse.

Those numbers don’t reflect a problem. They don’t even reflect an epidemic. They reflect an all out slaughter.

Professor Fazel and his researchers also concluded that among deaths from external causes (i.e. not from disease), drugs and alcohol accounted for 43% of former male prisoners’ deaths and 70% of former female prisoners’ deaths.

What the hell is going on?

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Let’s Offer Treatment Instead of Jail

Approximately 9% of former US prisoners’ deaths due to external causes could be prevented if treatment was offered in jail or instead of jail.

In fact, Professor Fazel and his team write,

“In many countries, jails and prisons are an important opportunity to treat substance use disorders in individuals who are out of the reach of conventional health care systems… Such efforts could not only reduce mortality in people released from custody, but also improve both public health and safety” (Medical News Today).

Sounds fair enough, right? If someone is seriously addicted to drugs and doesn’t have the resources to pursue private or state funded treatment, surely they can rely on treatment once they crash and burn, metaphorically speaking, into a jail cell.

The only problem with this idea is that the United States criminal justice system doesn’t offer much in the way of substance abuse treatment. 0.8% of those in state prisons receive detox, 0.3% receive medication-assisted therapies, 6.5% receive counseling, and 9.5% receive residential treatment.

Those are small numbers, especially when you consider that there are around 332,000 individuals in jail or prison for drug related crimes. Yeah, those treatment numbers could stand to be a bit higher.

What can we do to offer help to those prisoners who need it? Well, the first step is to increase federal and state spending on prison treatment centers. This is a monumental first step and likely won’t happen anytime soon. Until there’s more money available to fight the problem, though, nothing will change.

Once the money is there, prisons should offer a separate program for all drug related offenses. Similar to how drug courts work in tandem to traditional courts, prison and jail rehabs could work parallel to traditional facilities.

Maybe then half of all women released from prison wouldn’t die from a drug related cause.

Why Did California Get Rid of Drug Felonies?

California Did WHAT to Drug-Related Crimes?

This past Tuesday marked the biennial routine of Election Day, when U.S. citizens go to the ballot box and cast their votes on public policy.

prop 47 California

By and large, most people don’t vote unless the issues are important to them. However, the past few Election Days have seen huge turnouts due to an issue that many people do care about – U.S. drug policy.

Here in Florida, the issue at hand was the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The ballot initiative, Amendment 2, just barely missed the needed 60% of votes to get passed.

Over 2,700 miles from our sunny state, there was another important facet of drug policy. California’s Proposition 47 sought to reclassify a series of non-violent crimes, downgrading them from felonies to misdemeanors. The crimes include shoplifting, fraud and, most notably, drug use. What’s more, the ballot measure was approved.

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Prop 47: Making Drugs Legal?

Prop 47’s success signals a massive shift in our understanding of how to treat, not criminalize, addiction.

Nothing could be more true. California has become a particular breeding ground for inmates, both violent and non-violent. While it’s certainly possible that every single punishment fits the crime, the facts suggest otherwise. In just over forty years, California’s prison population grew at more than 100x the rate of its residential population. Logically, this makes little sense. How could a state have more new criminals than new residents?

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What Prop 47 REALLY Does

The rationale of Prop 47 is simple – decrease the prison population. There are both practical and moral dimensions behind this reasoning.

Practically, it simply doesn’t make sense to have such a massive prison population. Feeding, clothing and supervising that many inmates costs time and money. Prison guards need to be trained and equipped, appeals need to be processed, etc. For a state that’s $500 billion in debt, this hardly seems an efficient use of public resources.

California drug policy

The moral reasoning, though, is even more important. Prop 47 doesn’t only deal with drug offenders. As people who’ve dedicated our livelihoods to overcoming addiction, this issue is extremely important to us.

In California, and across the nation, people are being jailed for non-violent drug crimes. Many, if not most of them, have serious substance abuse problems that go unattended in prison.

This isn’t even taking into account the appalling racial disparity in drug crimes is. To take just one small example, a study by the Sentencing Project found that 98% of crack-related convictions were ethnic minorities.

Crack cocaine differs very little from the powder form, used predominantly by whites. Yet, crack can carry a conviction of jail time almost twice that of powder cocaine.

Why Prop 47 Permanently Changes U.S. Drug Policy

Putting politics aside for a moment, let’s try to appreciate what Prop 47 can do and why it’s important.

It’s not about letting criminals “off the hook.” It’s not about excusing bad behavior, and it’s not even just about saving California taxpayers money. It’s about helping those that need help, which prison clearly doesn’t do.

The new law would be meaningless if it simply released non-violent criminals back into the world. Fortunately, that’s not what it will do. It will replace prison with a more effective solution, as the law’s text states:

“Net state criminal justice system savings that could reach the low hundreds of millions of dollars annually. These savings would be spent on school truancy and dropout prevention, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and victim services.”

Currently, plans are in place to do exactly that – divert money and resources to schools, social services, and addiction treatment centers. It’s in these places that our most pressing issues can be solved. These are the places where drug addiction can be prevented, treated, and recovered from. In short, these are the services that will allow us to heal our social problems rather than bandage them.

Is weed really the new heroin?

ryan miller

Written by: Ryan Miller, recovering addict located in Delray Beach, Florida. He writes for Drug Treatment Center Finder and Recovery Hub.





Atheist Sues & is Awarded $2 Million for Going to Rehab?!

California Atheist Sues & is Awarded Almost $2 Million from State & Treatment Organization

barry hazle jr

A California man recently settled out of court, with the state of California and a nonprofit treatment organization, for $1.95 million.

If you think that’s a pretty bizarre headline, well, it comes from an even stranger story. Barry Hazle Jr., the man who’s found himself suddenly in the limelight, isn’t your average rehab client. He isn’t your average convicted felon, either.

It all starts with his arrest for methamphetamine related charges.

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The Story Behind the Story

In 2006, Barry Hazle Jr. was sentenced to a year in prison for methamphetamine possession. He was released in 2007 and court mandated to attend a drug treatment program. This is where the controversy begins.

WestCare California is a treatment contractor that refers parolees to substance abuse programs. WestCare, at the urging of Hazle’s parolee officer, arranged for him to attend Empire Recovery Center. Empire is a twelve-step based, residential addiction treatment facility.

While at Empire, Hazle was introduced to the twelve-step model of recovery. This includes faith in a higher power, which Hazle balked at. According to Substance.com, he was told, “anything can be your higher power. Fake it ‘till you make it.

Hazle, a lifelong atheist, took offense to this idea. He refused to participate in treatment and was told Empire Recovery Center was the only WestCare certified program in Shasta county. Because of Hazle’s refusal to participate, and his “passive-aggressive” behavior, he was eventually sent back to jail for over three months.

Upon his second release, Hazle sued both the state of California and WestCare. After a mere six weeks, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation banned parole agents and contractors from offering strictly religious treatment options.

Fast forward to 2010, a U.S. district court ruled that Hazle’s religious freedom was, in fact, violated. However, the jury of the case didn’t award him any compensation. A 2013 ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determined Hazle was entitled to compensation for the breach of his constitutional rights.

It’s worth noting that this ruling, from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, establishes the distinction between religious and non-religious treatment centers for the nine states and two Pacific island territories contained within the its bounds. To put it another way, residents of those states and territories now have a legal precedent for suing rehabs that infringe upon their religious freedoms.

That brings us to today. Hazle and his lawyer recently settled out of court with the state of California and WestCare. They agree to pay him the hefty sum of $1.95 million.

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Spirituality Isn’t Religion

While this is certainly an interesting story, why are we, a gender-specific treatment center far removed the 9th Circuit, writing about it? The answer’s simple – there’s been a fundamental misunderstanding on the part of the courts.

Spirituality isn’t religion! It never has been and it never will be. Incorporating twelve-step principals into comprehensive addiction treatment doesn’t violate anyone’s religious freedom.

Asking clients to have faith in a non-denominational and non-religious source of hope and strength isn’t the same as asking them to join a religion.

I’ve researched Empire Recovery Center. They’re your run of the mill treatment center. Unless their clinical modality is different than what they publicly project, they don’t require anyone to subscribe to a particular religion.

The court’s ruling that spirituality equals religion isn’t only misguided, it infringes upon my rights. It infringes upon my right to believe in a higher power. It infringes upon my right to recovery. It infringes upon my right to sobriety.

Further Reading

A Report of the Court’s Decision in Shasta County’s local paper

An interesting take on this case and inmate rights from Vice News

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