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The Long-Term Effects of Drug-Related Incarceration for Women

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Until recently, incarceration was the go-to for drug-related offenses, despite mental illness and addiction concerns. Depending on the drug, merely being in possession of the substance or even paraphernalia can put a woman behind bars. Over 1.2 million women are currently detained in correctional facilities. While more than half of incarcerated women await their day in court, some are yet to be convicted. Aside from nearly 80% of these women being mothers and primary caregivers, 26% are in for drug-related arrests. 

Although the percentage of women in prison for drugs being elevated suggests that addiction treatment aids reform, it’s not standard. Thus, women are left to manage the trauma of detox and addiction on their own, while moving through correctional systems. As frustrating as it is in real-time, the long-term effects of incarcerated women for drug-related offenses do even more harm. Not only are these women more likely to re-offend upon release, but they are also poorly prepared to manage a sober lifestyle

Women In Prison Are Stigmatized

When a woman is arrested and detained, there is a stigma that follows her upon release, even after time served. This leads to unemployment or having children taken away, which are traumatic events and should only occur under extreme circumstances. A woman in prison is not just facing her time behind bars. She’s also looking forward to a long tunnel of struggle to get back on her feet after. For many, getting help for addiction is unlikely to be prioritized, having to work around obligations, like childcare and work.

Realistically, it’s up to society to make the change and overturn stigma, and the department of correction, to amend punishment. However, in the meantime, there are options available for women who need help getting back on track. For all women, the battle with addiction doesn’t necessarily stop when active substance use does. Emotional trauma can easily act as a trigger without adequate coping skills to rely on. 

Treating Addiction Deters Second Offenses

Instead of putting these women in prison for drug-related crimes, treating their addiction removes the threat of reoffense. Rehab treatment programs, unlike jails, prisons, and detention centers, focus almost exclusively on long-term life outlook after substance abuse. Rehab offers an alternative to reoffending for incarcerated women and a chance to turn things around. Likewise, it may be helpful for newly released women to get involved with treatment programs. Not necessarily to treat active addiction, but to learn ways to avoid the temptation of relapse. 

Armed with the skills and coping tools necessary, support and life lessons are found within the curriculum. The sense of community offered adds to accountability for decisions and actions that affect living a healthy sober life. Included within addiction rehabilitation, is an optimistic outlook that simply isn’t found within the correctional system. 

Incarcerated Women: Pregnancy and Substance Abuse 

In some states, abusing substances while pregnant is considered a punishable crime in itself. Almost half of the United States, 24 states to be exact, and the District of Columbia consider this child abuse. As many as three of these states support legal intervention on behalf of the unborn. Thus, mandating a judge’s decision for conviction. While these statutes may seem extreme, the staggering numbers of pregnant women struggling with addiction most definitely warrant action.  

Somewhere between 5-10 percent of women in prison, or those held in jails, are pregnant. A national study performed in 2017 revealed that one out of every 12 pregnant women had used within 30 days. The number of newborn children withdrawing upon birth increased as much as 300 percent, in only the past 2 decades. To top it off, as high as 20% of pregnant women, within three states, overdosed and died from opioid abuse.  

Obviously, something has to be done to protect women and their unborn children, but putting women in prison is extreme. Fortunately, 19 states and counting have allocated funds for drug treatment programs, specifically for pregnant women. As an alternative to putting pregnant women in jail, addiction treatment may reduce long-term sentencing for incarcerated women expecting children.

Identifying Addicted Incarcerated Women With Mental Illness

effects of addiction on incarcerated womenIncarcerating women who are struggling with addiction may stop their drug use temporarily. However, in the long run, society isn’t benefited by simply removing an individual that could otherwise contribute after recovery. Additionally, due to a lack of resources, most women in prison are not receiving proper mental health and addiction treatment. 

Having an overlooked psychological illness along with addiction, as in a dual diagnosis case, can have lasting negative effects. When an individual displays mental, emotional, and physical patterns of psychological illness, but is an addict, psychological illness is dismissed. Under the circumstances, a dual diagnosis can be missed, which consists of mental illness and a substance use disorder. 

Dual Diagnosis Makes Addiction Treatment During Incarceration Incomplete

Substance use disorders are commonly observed in those with untreated mental illness. Occasionally, the addiction is to blame, having altered the brain chemistry of the individual permanently. Sometimes the opposite is true, and addiction developed as a means to self-medicate. Otherwise, the two can have occurred separately, but now, addiction fuels the worsening of mental illness, and vice-versa. Adequate therapy options are unfortunately lacking within many institutions, reflecting long-term and repeat drug offenders, leaving women in prison. 

However, with high demand and increasing numbers of incarcerated women needing professional psychological care, treatment is often left incomplete. Once released, the cycle of illness, to substance abuse, to offense, to arrest, is likely to repeat itself. Therefore, dual diagnosis evaluation and treatment may be the solution to recurring drug offenders, reducing addicted women in prison.

Detox at Rehab As An Alternative To Awaiting Trial In Jail 

So many incarcerated women are placed in jails until the time of their trial. Until then, the duration of their sentence is contingent. During this time, women who are suffering from addiction are left to do so with minimal oversight and intervention. However, as an alternative, allowing women to attend a rehab facility for detox and treatment may have long-term benefits. 

As for women who are released until the date of their court appearance, attending a professional detox program can help. The most effective time to begin rehab therapy and coping strategy is immediately following detox. It is at this time that new behaviors must be adapted to in order to encourage sobriety. Taking advantage of this time can get women on the right track before serving their time, avoiding uncomfortable withdrawal. Also, it may influence the outcome of proceedings and time served, depending on the severity of the offense.  

Residential Programs Versus Time Behind Bars

One way to avoid a prolonged sentence for committing a drug-related crime is to conquer addiction before it gets that far. So many women refuse to get the help that they need within residential treatment centers. It’s likely to avoid having to leave their children, jobs, or families during that time. However, abusing illegal substances and getting arrested for them may warrant much more time behind bars, away from loved ones. 

After Release Without An Aftercare Program

Another significant long-term effect of addicted incarcerated women is the lack of coping skills that are needed for recovery. When women complete a rehab treatment program, the goal is to have a working system to handle encounters of triggers. This aftercare program is going to be a series of practiced behaviors that are to become second nature. Essentially, learning how to resist temptation while maintaining emotional wellness is the idea behind an aftercare program

Incarcerated women are not often allotted time to develop such a program while detained. Women in prison, who are incarcerated for lengthy periods, typically find some ways to cope on their own. Although this may be beneficial for some, upon release, many coping skills will not be practical, or relevant anymore. Unfortunately, those who are unable to often find the struggle to be even more difficult, constantly seeking out substances. 

The Effect on Families of Women in Prison For Drug-Related Crimes

Perhaps the most impacted area of the lives of incarcerated women involves their loved ones and families. Addiction is said to be a family disease, as it affects the wellbeing of everyone involved or around the addict. Ironically, the same can be said about the women in prison that you love. 

One of the best programs to get involved in is a family-addiction support program. Even for those that are not addicted or incarcerated themselves, the substance abuse of a loved one can be traumatic. Some rehabs offer outlets for families of addicts in order to help everyone heal and become a support system for the other. 

Helping Addicted Women While Hoping For Reform

A great majority of drug-related arrests are victimless crimes. This means that there was no injury sustained to an individual to be considered a victim. For example, an addict may steal money or belongings to sell for drug money, without ever encountering or endangering another. As opposed to long-term punishment for these types of crimes, treating addiction resolves the need to commit the crime altogether. Get in touch for more information on rehab options available in your area.











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