Jail Is the Worst Substitute for Drug Treatment

I’ve gone from jail to the streets. And right back to my addiction.
In 2012, Canada introduced its first-ever mandatory-minimum prison sentences for drug offenses. Subsequently, Pivot Legal Society interviewed 19 people who use drugs to ask them about their experiences with the criminal justice system. Brent (his last name is kept private) first began getting in trouble with the law when he was 18. Now 28, he spent almost half of the past decade inside. The following is from his interview.

It was overcrowded, they were triple bunking. It was my first time in jail and it was horrifying.

I know for a fact that when people know you are new to jail they’ll gang up on you and just give you a beat down just ’cause they can. Or if they check you into [protective custody], it’s like a sport: “Watch this, I’m going to check this guy in.”

There was no needles in jail whatsoever. We were using these needles that were like 10 years old. They were disgusting.

But at the time when I first went in I was coming off of heroin. … My buddy had some heroin so it doesn’t matter what the needle looked like, I just wanted to get unsick. So I used this needle that had dried blood on it.

And it was like trying to put a dull knife in my arm. The lack of clean supplies in jail is detrimental to people’s health. I’m sure that’s just a breeding ground for infectious diseases. A person in the grip of addiction will do anything to get their next fix.

I’m a little surprised that the whole system—didn’t they recognize addiction for what it is? They know the people, they see their faces come in and out of jail all the time. Why is there never any intervention? Are they just happy giving them jail sentences and when the time is up, they release them back to themselves?

It had a profound negative psychological impact on me. There is no question in my mind. … Again, they didn’t have any programs. No emphasis on rehabilitation. And every subsequent time, I never received any treatment, on the inside or on the outside either.

[When I’d get out] they give me a ticket to get downtown, and I usually have a welfare check in my hand. I have nowhere to go and no supports in place. There was no work. There is no mechanism in place to have people, you know, set up when they leave in terms of housing or support or anything of that nature that’s going to help someone when they get out of jail.

I think that’s the predominant reason why in the past 10 years I’ve been in and out of jail. It is the reason why I got stuck in that cycle, because I’ve gone from jail to the streets. And right back to my addiction, and with a few more tools because I’ve learned a few more tricks of the trade in the criminal world to better keep myself in drugs.

Jail—I am trying to word this correctly—jail, it aggravates the situation and it somehow reinforces itself. The addict starts believing they deserve it. After a while they believe they deserve to be jailed and there is no hope, and it just reinforces the whole lifestyle. It reinforces the addictive behavior when there is no mechanism in place to help them with their disease.

Learn More:



Could not agree more...... The system has to change. People need to get involved and write letters to there local and state law makers ..So all you people out there that are clean now you owe it to the rest still struggling to get off your buts and get in evolved please. There is NO rehabilitation jail or prison it just screws you up more!! being around all the really bad people the things that happen in there will mess up up more .....

I feel the us allows drugs in our country, getting paid, the addicts suffer and than are jailed, forgotten, it's wrong, the addicts need help!! Our world is so messed up

please we must change our way of thinking it is only a matter of common sense that jail is not the place for our loved ones drug courts and law inforcement must change the prehistoric method of tossing addicts into a cell and expect a good result when they are released where is there compassion would they want this for there loved one?

I agree drug addicts need to be in drug rehab I know a loved one in jail over drugs and he isn't getting any help he had a sorry attorney that helped put him there I thought they were suppose to help you not make sure you get no help jails are so overcrowded that theres no room for them all do the smart thing and get these people help instead of treating them as a number some have been told that's all they are just a number jails make a lot of money from prisoners on phone calls alone its insane

i agree my son is a addict in prison and the only thing thats happen is its made his addiction worse theres way to many drugs in prison ,you sentences them with outrageous sentences leaving them with no hope and throw them in prisons full of drugs how is that helping anyone

I have 2 sons that are in separate jails/prisons... their sentence didn't come up for 2 years. In the meantime,my oldest had paid off all previous fines,got a job,fell in love and moved in with his girlfriend. Now - a clean hard working guy is in Prison with all of the drugs available and staying away from it as his live only goes downhill .MDOC is making tons of money!!( I was sickened to realize they are the owners of the canteens that MY money goes into,to help my sons have a snack, or fan, or under clothes???? ) Why can't some of this money go toward SEPARATE facilities for inmates with DRUG charges( rehabs) to HELP these people get their lives back together and be productive Americans!!

I could not agree more. My son is struggling after 4 years in jail. He has less than a year and he tells me there is NO getting away from drugs in there. He is struggling bad to stay away and NO ONE cares in there. WTF. We have got to get help to addicts in jail or we WILL fail as a society. What is wrong. We have all these affirmative action groups that instead of fighting for racial equality should focus on getting jailed addicts help. The real truth is it doesn’t matter whether your white, black or any race we are turning out worse people after they get out. My heart is exploding for these people. Race is a non issue these days in spite of what these groups are promoting. Drugs don’t see color/race only PEOPLE!

my 49 year old brother was just sent to prison in utah for drug charges i feel helpless he doesnt belong there he needs rehab we was able to find a rehab called trosa in south carolina had it all set up and the prosecuting attorney convinced the judgeto not let him leave the state now he sits in prison where he has access to any drug there is i just dont understand we as americans need to take a stand drug addiction is a disease

My boyfriend has been in and out for a very long time and never wanted help for his addiction til this last time around. He almost died last year and the whole thing changed him. He got out of the hospital, and all he did was work and rest. He didn't want to ever use heroine again but suffered from anxiety so would smoke a little pot to help. He told his PO that he wanted off probation and had been (or at least we thought) working with the judge on getting him into a drug program. Well he was denied (he was set up in jail for having weed and they consider that a violent offense) and we found him another program that we had hoped he could do. However, the judge did a complete 180 and changed his tune. First he was going to let him do program but then all of a sudden was saying bs like why should I let you do this one now? You blew off all the other opportunities and past behavior is predictor of future behavior crap. He actually WANTS the help but instead of letting him try, the judge just sends him back to jail. AND when he finally gets out... he'll be back on probation! It's not like they don't OWN him and can't have him locked up if he doesn't comply! He's actually admitting he needs the help whereas before he didn't!!!

Add your voice