Government Report: Thousands of Prisoners Wait Months for Drug Treatment

Thousands of prisoners wait months to enter drug education or rehabilitation programs, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The delay is caused by staff shortages and limited resources, USA Today reports. Drug offenders represent the largest category of prisoners in the federal prison system, the article notes.

In 2011, more than 51,000 inmates were on waiting lists for basic drug education programs, some for up to three months. A total of 31,803 inmates were enrolled in such programs last year, the report states.

Inmates who complete the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Residential Drug Abuse Program receive a sentence reduction of one year. Waiting lists for the program were so long last year that only one-quarter of graduates entered the program with at least a year left on their prison terms.

“These are important programs, because so many people come into the system with substance abuse problems,” David Maurer, primary author of the GAO review, told the newspaper. “These programs can help in the whole re-entry process.”

According to Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman Ed Ross, the number of inmates on waiting lists for the programs, and the time spent waiting for treatment, has begun to decrease.

“To the extent the budget allows, we will continue to add treatment staff to meet the needs of the increasing inmate population, and in the future, we expect to reduce the amount of time an inmate is wait-listed for treatment,” he said. “Reducing the time spent waiting to enter treatment will allow for longer sentence reductions at the back end for non-violent eligible inmates.”

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    Jim Wallis

    December 6, 2012 at 11:44 AM

    I agree with Mr. Dillon’s remarks. As a treatment provider, it is our effort to always be on the outlook for Cost effective treatment, and showing those outcomes and statistics to funders is critical to get those most in need of resources the services that will help them be successful long term. Security and public safety has got to be the priority for the Department of Corrections when working with offenders. I believe that new initiatives in technology can be a win-win for DOC and the general public, by allowing offenders to receive needed services earlier and more regularly.

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    John Creaser

    December 5, 2012 at 5:02 PM

    I am tired of hearing how “tight” resources (money) is… it is far more costly to repeatedly lock up the same offenders over and over. I worked in an in prison program for a good part of the 90s and the therapeutic community model – immersing them in recovery – is a better solution. 12 step programs don’t work because there is a perceived religious overtone and they are not TREATMENT services. Computers won’t work either because tele-treatment just is not ready yet – particularly for the hardest core drug users and offenders. Modified TCs work… and they save resources, teach responsibility and real-life accountability… they make the real difference needed. I know, I have been a part of making it happen!

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    Dick Dillon

    December 5, 2012 at 1:01 PM

    Much of this backlog problem could be solved by using technology, online teaching tools, virtual counseling, etc.

    Unfortunately, many correctional systems are very restrictive in not allowing inmates access to real-time online communication. Maybe it’s time to be a little less rigid. Supervised synchronous computer use would only add a small cost while generating a huge benefit.

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    Rick Esterly

    December 5, 2012 at 1:00 PM

    I have seen this type of issue many times over the year and the most helpful approach is to accept the fact that resources are tight and brain storm what is the best solution (e.g., shorter program, increased 12 step and other self help meetings, bigger case loads, etc) instead of waiting for more money.

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