'Forced Rehab' Program Being Considered For One South Carolina Jail

By Keri Blakinger 08/22/17

Inmates would pay $25 a week for drug tests until they finish the program.

closeup on hands of man sitting in jail.

A South Carolina jail has plans to launch a forced rehab program next month for inmates battling drug addiction. 

Horry County solicitor Jimmy Richardson teamed up with the local sheriff’s office to propose the new plan he hopes will shut down opioid addiction, WBTW reported.

“We’re going to try to get those guys back on the straight and narrow,” he said, pointing out that heroin is the underlying cause for the majority of arrests in the coastal county, which includes Myrtle Beach. “We can’t send them all to prison, but we can put them in forced rehab through jail, and if they don’t want to do that, they can sit there for their whole sentence.”

Inmates would pay $25 a week for drug tests and undergo a 90-day detox, WBTW reported. The program will begin in September.

“We’re trying to think outside the box and not cost the county any money by doing this,” Richardson said. “In fact, if we reduce the time that a person has to stay in pre-trial, it may actually save the county some money.”

At the same time, solicitor Richardson has pushed for harsh 15- to 20-year sentences for convicted heroin or fentanyl dealers. “We’re going to send them away for long periods of time and continue doing it,” he said. “This is not the place to come to push drugs.”

The idea of forced—or at least coerced—rehab isn’t entirely new. Some prison systems take into consideration inmates' willingness to attend drug treatment behind bars when considering early release decisions.

Lawmakers in at least eight states have considered legislation to force people with addictions into treatment, whether or not they want it, the Daily Beast reported in May. Most states already have laws allowing the short-term detention of drug users, usually if they’ve threatened bodily harm. 

But in recent years, states have begun paving the way for longer-term holds, such as involuntary civil commitments. 

In Florida, for example, a 2016 measure allows any adult with “direct personal observed knowledge” to file a petition for up to a 90-day commitment of people with addictions who have become “incapable” of rational decision-making and “lost the power of self-control with respect to substance abuse.”

Other states have similar laws on the books or under consideration, though it’s not clear how effective such forced treatment is. A study in the Lancet found that people with opioid addiction who were sent to treatment against their will had “significantly more rapid relapse” afterward.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.