To combat heroin addiction in Wisconsin and improve the chances for successful rehabilitation for incarcerated drug offenders, the Dane County Jail has begun using Vivitrol in its opiate treatment program.
Vivitrol is a prescription drug that blocks opioid receptors in the brain and prevents drugs like heroin and painkillers from affecting the recovering patient.
“You don’t get high and it helps with cravings,” said Cheylene Schank, an addiction specialist and caseworker at Journey Mental Health Center.
According to the official Vivitrol website, “Opioid and alcohol dependence are chronic, relapsing brain diseases that can be devastating both psychologically and physically.”
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While counseling can help patients through the psychological aspects of dependence, Vivitrol may be the solution for helping patients through the physical challenges of rehabilitation and dependence. Vivitrol injections are administered once a month and require full detox prior to beginning treatment.
Vivitrol injections are just one aspect of the medication-assisted treatment program at the Dane County Jail. The program is tailored to the individual but can include any combination of group therapy, individual therapy and meetings with a recovery coach.
219 people have participated in the Dane County Jail opiate treatment program in the last five years. Todd Campbell, the Dane County adult community services administrator, said 43 percent of those individuals “accomplished their treatment goals.”
“Sustained sobriety, stable living, stable employment — those are the big markers that we look for,” Campbell said.
Taking a medical approach to opioid addiction with Vivitrol injections shows things might be changing in the Wisconsin prison system. By repurposing the Dane County Jail as a place of rehabilitation, rather than solely a place of punishment and separation, Wisconsin is among several states taking the lead in treating prisoners with respect and giving them the tools they require to lead successful lives after their releases.
Currently, America has the highest incarceration rate in the world: 655 inmates per 100,000 people. And, although the current rate of incarceration is “at its lowest point since 1996,” prisoners continue to struggle from elevated risks of mental illness and a punishment-oriented environment in American prisons.
Until the mid-1970s, rehabilitation was quite common in most prisons, and prisoners received the care they required to successfully reenter society following their releases. However, since then, a punishment-oriented approach has dominated the focus on rehabilitation. This new approach “created explosive growth in the prison population, while having a modest effect on crime rates,” according to the American Psychological Association.
Today, several states are introducing programs to challenge the idea that prisons serve only punitive purposes, rather than rehabilitative ones, too.
The Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) in Texas is teaching inmates valuable business skills. Arizona’s Community Bridges Group’s Forensic Assertive Community Treatment (FACT) team is providing former and current inmates with resources to aid in struggles with mental illness.
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Both of these programs have made an impact on program participants. The recidivism rate for PEP participants is 7 percent, much lower than the national average, and 85 percent of FACT clients “have avoided returning to jail or prison since the program’s inception [in 2016].”
The success of programs such as those in Texas and Arizona, as well as California, Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin, go to show that rehabilitation-oriented programs can work. Prisoners benefit hugely when shown respect and given the chance to reenter society.
By giving Dane County Jail prisoners that same respect, and treating addiction as a medical issue — rather than a conscious choice made with poor judgment — Wisconsin is joining those states in challenging the way prisoners have been treated for decades.
Rather than taking a punishment-oriented approach and opting for a rehabilitation-oriented approach, the Dane County Jail has the chance to provide prisoners struggling with addiction with the help they need to make successful recoveries. With that, Dane County also has the chance to keep drug offenders from coming in and out of prison and begin chipping away at the absurdly high population of incarcerated Americans.
Juliet Dupont ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science and journalism.