Probation is a great option that many people are given in lieu of being sent behind bars. That way they can take advantage of addiction treatment instead of jail, a place where treatment is generally nonexistent. However, one significant danger exists for those who are on parole: The conditions of the parole often require that the individual be drug-free for however long it lasts and that even one failed drug test could get them sent back to jail for relapse. Is that really the best thing for that person or for society as a whole?
Being Sent to Jail for Relapse
A New York Times article took an interesting look at this topic as it analyzed the case of Julie Eldred, a 30-year-old woman who was taking advantage of an outpatient treatment program as she looked to overcome her addiction to opiates. Unfortunately, she relapsed shortly after starting treatment. As soon as that happened, she asked her doctor for more Suboxone, and that helped her pull herself back up and not make the relapse any worse. However, a few days later, she was given a drug test, a condition of her probation, and failed it. Incarceration followed after her probation officer showed no mercy when told that her recovery was now back no track. No treatment – no drug counseling and no Suboxone – was provided during her 10 days in prison.
Is Going to Jail a Suitable Punishment for Relapse?
Those who are on the other side of the issue say that there is significant value in the deterrent aspect of threatening somebody with jail or prison time should a relapse occur and that people figure out how to deal with and overcome their cravings in that situation. However, several studies have shown this to not be the case in most situations and that time spent in prison either doesn’t help the person recover or exacerbates the situation. The latter possibility is hurt by the fact that, according to Eldred, “drugs were often available” during her time in prison anyway. She also added that there was “a lot of violence.” A stressful environment like that is not going to help anybody recover from an addiction.
Addiction is a Disease
For that reason, her lawyer, Lisa Newman-Polk, brought her case to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. She didn’t believe that people should be punished because they had a disease, the disease of addiction. This can be viewed as “cruel and unusual punishment.” She added that it’s “not practical or reasonable” to expect someone who is not cured or is in remission to be 100 percent free of drugs. Addiction treatment instead of jail time needs to be the focus.
Probably the best solution is to do something like evaluate the situation whenever a relapse occurs and focus on ensuring that treatment is received if at all possible. If the person attempting to overcome an addiction has continued to get evaluations and treatment, then jail time is most likely not the best solution. Having what seems like a default ruling of just sending those in Eldred’s case to jail for relapse is likely not helping anyone.
Long-term Addiction Recovery is Possible, but Remains a Lifelong Focus
One thing to keep in mind is that even somebody cured or in remission is generally never 100 percent in the clear. In most cases, this needs to be a lifelong focus. Of course, it will become easier and easier to resist as treatment continues and time passes, but many who have not consumed drugs or alcohol in several years still say that there are times when they need to consciously resist relapsing. And it’s especially important to continue addiction treatment shortly after detox has been completed even though drugs or alcohol is no longer being used. The time immediately after detox is essential as that is when a relapse is most likely, and, if it happens, the situation needs to be handled with care. The former but definitely not the latter is what occurred in Eldred’s case.
Addiction Treatment Instead of Jail Needs to be the Norm
Fortunately, more and more people are starting to see just how valuable treatment is for those suffering from addiction and that it will help them and society as a whole in the long run much more than spending time in jail or prison would. One place where this is happening is Roane County, Tenn. This community, whose county seat, Kingston, is located just 30 miles west of Knoxville, has launched a “recovery court,” which is focused on, whenever possible, getting people the help that they need outside of a generally unhelpful jail or prison setting.
Whether or not you are concerned about jail time, committing to addiction treatment at a reputable treatment facility is your best option for long-term recovery. If you or a loved one is looking to overcome a dependence on drugs or alcohol, give Ocean Hills Recovery a call today.