Justice Department Proposes Expanding Access to Drug Treatment in Prisons

By Victoria Kim 07/29/15

The DOJ wants to revise a drug treatment program run by the Bureau of Prisons.

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Proposed changes to a drug treatment program run by the Bureau of Prisons would allow greater inmate participation and positively impact recidivism rates, a memo issued last week by the Department of Justice said.

The DOJ wants to revise four areas of the program—formally known as the Residential Drug Abuse Treatment Program (RDAP), which the BoP describes as its most intensive treatment program—to maximize inmate participation, given the program's positive impact.

A study conducted by the BoP and the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that RDAP reduces recidivism and improves public safety. Across the board, those who completed the program were less likely to relapse or get arrested within three years after release to supervision, compared to inmates who did not participate in the program.

Revisions to the typically nine-month-long program include abandoning a written testing requirement that is no longer used in practice, which has been replaced by a modified therapeutic community model of treatment focused on assessing progress through changes in behavior and the ability to complete individualized treatment goals. The memo explains that behavioral assessments are much more telling than written tests of whether treatment has positively affected a person’s life.

The second proposed change is to give inmates at least one formal warning before removing them from the program for certain behaviors such as abuse of drugs and alcohol, violence, or attempted escape, as an alternative to automatic expulsion. This would give the BoP “more latitude and clinical discretion when determining which inmates should be expelled from the program.”

The last two proposed changes seek to ease restrictions relating to early release eligibility. These revisions to RDAP could save the federal government millions of dollars a year, the memo notes. In fiscal year 2015, the estimated annual cost to incarcerate an inmate in the BoP is $11,324 per inmate.

“Based on an estimate of 400 inmates released up to a year early if this proposed rule change is made, that could equate to a cost avoidance of over $4.5 million per year,” the DOJ said.

The public has 60 days to comment on the proposed rule. Last year, The Fix contributor Seth Ferranti wrote about the impact that RDAP had on him and fellow graduates.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr