For those of us not familiar with the justice system in our country, it’s easy to believe that addiction ends once someone is sent to prison. It must be impossible to do drugs in a world completely locked off from the rest of the world, right? On the contrary – drug abuse is not only common in prison, but it’s on the rise. In 1980, roughly 40,000 people were arrested for drug crimes in the United States. In 2013, this number skyrocketed to almost 500,000. With a prolific amount of people entering the prison system who have likely abused drugs, it’s not very surprising that this trend continues even behind bars.
Half of all inmates in the United States prison system fit the DSM IV criteria for addiction or substance abuse. So how does this happen? There are three main ways drugs can enter prisons: corrupt staff, visitor smuggling, and simply the ingenuity of those in prison. It’s not uncommon for staff to be complicit in smuggling drugs into prisons, or at least overlooking the process itself. Visitors have also been known to creatively smuggle drugs into prisons, as the drug trade tends to continue even when key players are incarcerated. Sometimes drugs get into prisons just through the ingenuity of the prisoners themselves. Through outside connections, drugs can be launched over prison walls, and some drugs can even be made in prison. Clearly, drug abuse doesn’t stop at the prison gates. However, with some simple changes, it could be stopped on the inside.
Once in prison, it can be exceptionally difficult to actually get treatment. It’s estimated that only 11% of those who need treatment actually receive it in prison. Many treatment programs in prison are underfunded and understaffed, and many choose not to enroll. However, many prisons are making efforts to curb drug abuse in prison by improving their drug abuse treatment programs. This, coupled with partnerships with aftercare programs like 12 step programs, aims to prevent the cycle of addiction and incarceration in America. Ideally, this problem could be halted much sooner with more emphasis being placed on treatment before prison. Hopefully this is a change we can all aim to make in the future as drug abuse in America continues its dangerous and prolific rise.