Ohio Pushes Reforms to Help Inmates with Addiction Issues

By Keri Blakinger 12/30/15

Treatment for substance abuse is in high demand in the state's penitentiaries.

Photo via Shutterstock

Four out of five inmates in Ohio’s prisons have addiction issues—and the state is finally taking action to address that problem more appropriately.

For the current fiscal year, the Buckeye State’s prison system received $27.4 million to help pay for more addiction counselors, a move that comes amid a host of other changes, according to the Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum.

Before July, the state was offering treatment to far fewer inmates. The state was releasing between 8,000 and 9,000 inmates with serious addiction issues every year, but only about half of them received treatment. 

Under the new system, anyone who will be released in three months can start counseling in prison and have their records sent to a halfway house when they leave.

One of the treatment methods the Ohio system uses is the therapeutic community model. Non-violent offenders live together in groups of 70 to 180 and attend group counseling together.

Tracy Plouck, the director of the state’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, plans to triple the number of inmates in therapeutic communities over the next year and a half. Currently, just four facilities have therapeutic community offerings but Plouck wants to raise that to eight.

The state system is also making a push to sign up more prisoners for Medicaid so they can receive necessary treatment and medical care immediately upon their release. Currently just 10 of the state’s 27 prisons routinely deal with Medicaid enrollments before an inmate’s release.

Although prisoners can’t take medication-assisted treatment like Suboxone or methadone while behind bars, this would hopefully increase the number of inmates able to use such drugs after their release by making sure that they’re on Medicaid, which would cover the cost.

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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.