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Drug Treatment in Prison: Moving on Out

The RDAP program aims high to prep prisoners for release—like teaching how to tie a tie. But some tell The Fix they find it "condescending."

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By Seth Ferranti

11/15/12

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A prisoner who completes Phase III—the final phase—of the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP) should have obtained employability skills that will assist him in re-entry to society. He's expected to be able to distinguish realistic from unrealistic expectations, and to identify strategies for coping with thoughts, emotions and situations that increase his risk for recidivism and relapse. "Phase III is about transitions. It deals with job interview skills, creating a safety net, which is a support system of people to assist you from relapsing," one prisoner tells The Fix. "You learn a lot of stuff: like how to tie a tie, how to shake hands properly, how to conduct an interview and how to maneuver through the fact that you were incarcerated." Alongside such practical skills, self-analysis remains important: "You also write a paper to evaluate yourself to see if you are institutionalized."

A Phase III participant is expected to actively apply prosocial skills and develop his own realistic plans for exiting the program, and prison. He has to demonstrate understanding of what a balanced life means, an appreciation of the value of job satisfaction, and the need to make positive life-adjustments to achieve that. His understanding should also extend to elements of physical and emotional wellbeing, as well as the difference between positive and negative relationships, and the importance of positive community involvement. But despite all these lofty and ambitious objectives, "You don't really learn anything that would be beneficial to your re-entry to the world," the prisoner tells us. "I felt it's condescending in nature." One of his complaints is that "the interviews that are conducted aren't valid for what job we might really be getting or be interested in. They have you apply for positions in mock interviews and job fairs that you wouldn't really have the ability or chance to get. Because for real, coming out of prison and being a drug addict, you are just going to have to get a shitty job to appease the halfway house and your probation officer. So to me, it's all a facade."

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