Prison Consultants Accused Of Helping Convicts "Scam" Their Way Into Rehab Programs

By Lindsey Weedston 03/15/19

Residential drug abuse program (RDAP) fraud is causing an already-crowded program to become even more difficult to enter as waiting lists grow.

inmate going to talk to a prison consultant about a rehab program

An entire industry of “prison consultants” have been reportedly helping individuals entering the prison system to fake their way into prison drug rehabilitation programs for many years, according to a report from The San Francisco Chronicle.

This problem was brought to light recently when a Connecticut grand jury indicted three of these consultants, who are accused of coaching convicts who should have been ineligible for the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP) on how to get in.

Programs like RDAP are designed to help inmates with substance use disorders to detox and begin their recovery journey, rewarding them with a reduced sentence if the program is completed.

The prison consultants in the Connecticut case are accused of telling individuals without substance abuse problems to arrive at prison while intoxicated and then fake withdrawal symptoms. This type of fraud has been an open secret for years, according to current and former prison consultants.

However, this is the first time that anyone has been charged for facilitating RDAP fraud. 

Prison consultants, often former inmates or prison employees, charge thousands of dollars for “insider knowledge” about how to best survive a stint behind bars. My Federal Prison Consultant president and retired federal Bureau of Prisons employee Jack Donson compared the industry to the “Wild West.”

According to the website for National Prison and Sentencing Consultants, Inc., much of what they do is helping defendants and their lawyers keep sentences short.

“Our singular goal is to reduce the amount of time our clients spend in federal prison,” the website reads. “NPSC works with federal defendants and their attorneys with federal plea agreement review, federal sentencing guideline calculations, pre-sentence investigation report review and analysis, sentence mitigation, prison designation and RDAP assistance and analysis.”

Though much of the advice given by these consultants is perfectly legal, it appears that there is an increasing problem with instruction on how to cheat the system.

RDAP fraud is causing an already-crowded program to become even more difficult to enter as waiting lists grow.

Close to 10% of the prison population participated in RDAP in 2018 while thousands more waited their turn in the hopes of getting up to a year knocked off of their sentence. Plus, graduates can spend the last six months of their remaining sentence in a halfway house.

According to former federal prosecutor Christopher Mattei, RDAPs are being used more and more by individuals convicted of white-collar crimes—a trend that could damage the credibility of the program and the justice system as a whole.

“It undermines the public's confidence that all people when they go before a court for sentencing will be treated fairly,” Mattei said on the issue. “People who know how to game the system know how to get the benefits, whereas people who are struggling with addiction don't know all the angles to play.”

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Lindsey Weedston is a Seattle area writer focused on mental health and addiction, politics, human rights, and various social issues. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Ravishly, ThinkProgress, Little Things, Yes! Magazine, and others. You can find her daily writings at Twitter: