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A Drug Treatment Program in Prison

The Residential Drug Abuse Program is largely helpful, prisoners tell The Fix.

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"Utilized correctly this program can incite
change in one's life." Photo via

By Seth Ferranti

09/27/12

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While drug use and addiction are rampant among our nation's prison population, far too often the avenues for treatment are minimal. One option that is available in federal prisons is the Residential Drug Abuse Program, commonly referred to as RDAP. The aim of this intensive treatment program is clearly to reduce relapse and recidivism. As part of a modified therapeutic community, all participants are expected to contribute to the creation of a social organization to facilitate positive psychological and lifestyle change.

"It's a good program," one prisoner tells The Fix. "It's not a disgrace to be wrong, but it is a disgrace to stay wrong. Therein lies the success of RDAP. Utilized correctly, this program can incite change in one's life. It's elevated my thinking by allowing me to challenge my thinking. Ultimately it's put me on a better path." RDAP emphasizes pro-social thinking and behaviors intended to improve functioning both inside and outside prison. It focuses heavily on each RDAP participant's behavior, thoughts, emotions, perceptions and interactions—and this leads to some intense moments in therapy. "You have to be cautious and use your own good judgment in this program," says one veteran. "It's designed to cause controversy within the unit, which functions as a mini-community. I try to keep my strong opinions to myself. I don't want to make waves or say things that will spiral out of control. I don't trust the drug counselors here—they try to stir shit up." To entice prisoners to enroll in the program and fulfill the strict behavior codes, the Bureau of Prisons offers prisoners up to a year off their sentences for completion of the 500-hour, 10 month-long program. "Sometimes it can be a hassle," the second prisoner says. "But 12 months off my sentence is worth the bullshit I have to endure in this program. I try to get what I can out of it because I'm not trying to come back to prison—and if I take drugs, that's where I'll end up." 

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