'Treatment Prison' for Inmates With Addiction Opens In New Jersey

By Paul Gaita 05/04/17

Incoming inmates will have access to support groups, 12-step programs and medication-assisted treatment.

Mid-State Correctional Facility
Mid-State Correctional Facility Photo via YouTube

The Mid-State Correctional Facility in New Jersey will become the first prison in the United States designed specifically to treat inmates with drug use issues.

As part of Governor Chris Christie's commitment to combat substance use disorder in his state, the newly reopened facility in Fort Dix, New Jersey will serve as a residential correctional facility for nearly 700 medium-security inmates, providing them with state-certified treatment programs for as long as it requires them to find sobriety.

A second program for women inmates at the 65-bed Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Union Township is also slated to open this year.

Half of the inmate facilities within New Jersey's Department of Corrections offer drug-treatment programs, according to NewsWorks, with 12-step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous present in all 12 of its prisons. But inmates who choose to serve their sentences at Mid-State will have access to diagnostic screenings from both professionals at Rutgers University Correctional Health Care and the Gateway Foundation, an alcohol and drug treatment group that provides treatment services to six other New Jersey prisons.

From there, inmates will be assigned to one of four levels of treatment depending on the severity of their disease, which will include clinical and behavioral therapy, as well as medication-assisted treatment (MAT) in the form of prescription drugs like methadone or buprenorphine (Suboxone). 

New inmates with addiction issues who are not eligible for drug-court programs will be allowed to participate in the Mid-State program, which also intends to take in participants in existing treatment programs at other facilities.

Funding will come from the more than $20 million saved by the state after it closed Mid-State in 2014. Upon completing the program, inmates will receive a certificate of completion similar to ones provided to patients in programs outside of the prison system.

At a press conference at Mid-State, Governor Christie announced that he intends to introduce additional programs to help inmates who complete their sentences transition to life outside of prison. "It's all part of the same continuum," he said.

State Parole Board chairman James Plousis stood behind the program, which he said was "smart on crime. We want [released inmates] to succeed. And this gives them the tools to succeed."

Should the program yield success, it may serve as a national model for other prison systems to provide rehabilitation services for its inmates. Christie backs this idea as well, but emphasized that its core value remains focused on the program's ability to make a difference in the lives of participants. "One hundred percent success is not the standard," said the governor. "It's 'can we change lives and have an impact,' that's the standard."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.