The Role of Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialists Within the Prison System

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Substance abuse and addiction is a major problem across the United States and in almost all juvenile correctional systems, jails, and prisons. Substance abuse is such a serious problem because it can lead to both significant mental health problems and physical health problems. Just over forty percent of inmates in state prisons and forty-seven percent of inmates in jails are dependent on drugs while over fifty-five percent of inmates in state prisons and over sixty percent of inmates in jails had abused drugs (Bronson, Stroop, Zimmer, Berzofsky, 2017).

Drug and alcohol treatment specialists are placed in both prisons and jails to treat inmates for their drug and alcohol addictions. These drug and alcohol treatment specialists are experts on substance treatment and rehabilitation. Drug and alcohol treatment specialists determine what type of treatment courses inmates should go through to properly and effectively treat and rehabilitate an inmate’s addiction. Some drug and alcohol treatment specialists can teach classes on substance abuse. In these classes, inmates can learn about triggers, activities to do to keep the cravings at bay and learn about self-care and their potential future life without substance addiction. Some drug and alcohol treatment specialists also offer counseling/therapy to substance-addicted inmates. During counseling, the specialist will evaluate the inmates and determine the severity of their addiction and plan an individualized plan based on that inmates needs. Drug and alcohol treatment specialist also provide prerelease planning and aftercare to make sure they have treatment and counseling after their release from prison. According to Correctional Officer Education, “Their daily activities often include writing drug treatment plans, developing aftercare plans for soon-to-be-released inmates, and conducting interviews to determine treatment eligibility (2019).”

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There are a variety of requirements for being hired as a drug and alcohol treatment specialist. One requirement is to get a four-year degree from an accredited college or university in a behavioral or social science such as psychology, psychobiology, sociology, criminal justice, social work, or counseling. Many candidates have a better chance of getting the job and advancing from the entry-level position to a management position if a Master’s Degree is obtained by the individual. Another requirement for becoming a drug and alcohol treatment specialist is completing a mandatory number of hours of counseling experience and passing a counseling exam to become a certified counselor. It would really help to understand human behaviors, empathy, the ability to really listen to the patient and needs of the patient, and to understand how to set boundaries but these are not requirements needed for the job.

The average drug and alcohol treatment specialist hired under the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services Office can earn anywhere between sixty-five thousand and one hundred and six thousand a year varying on different aspects and circumstances. During their career, a drug and alcohol treatment specialist can interact with a major variety of people within and outside of the prison or jail. A drug and alcohol treatment specialists first and foremost interaction should go to their clients. Their clients can be anyone within the prison or jail that has a substance abuse problem.

Alcohol and drug abuse problems in the prison and jail systems are rapidly growing due to the high criminal activity involving drugs and alcohol. When a criminal is caught and convicted on drug or alcohol-related charges they often times have some type of substance abuse problem and need care and rehabilitation while in the prison or jail systems. According to the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, their study shows that “Of the 2.3 million inmates crowding our nation’s prisons and jails, 85% were substance-involved; 1.5 million met the DSM-IV medical criteria for substance abuse or addiction. Another 458,000 had not met the strict DSM-IV criteria but had histories of substance abuse and were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of their crime, committed their offense to get money to buy drugs, were incarcerated for an alcohol or drug law violation, or shared some combination of these characteristics (2017)”. This data shows that drug and alcohol treatment specialists have their work cut out for them each and every day as the prison gets new inmates and they continue to medicate, treat, and counsel their regular inmates.

Drug and alcohol treatment specialist must also work with correctional officers, nurses, behavioral clinicians, correctional teachers, and correctional release coordinators as part of their job. Drug and alcohol treatment specialists must work with correctional officers to keep an eye on their patients and report any signs of relapse, depression, anxiety, or troublemaking, that could create an unsafe situation for the inmate himself/herself or the inmates around him/her. Drug and alcohol treatment specialists must also work with behavioral clinicians and nurses to coordinate treatment plans for their inmates and make sure they are progressing psychologically. If the drug and alcohol treatment specialist chooses not to work as a correctional teacher they may have to work with the correctional teachers to make lesson plans based on substance abuse, consequences, and treatments. And finally, drug and alcohol treatment specialists must work closely with correctional release coordinators to determine their eligibility for release and make sure they transfer into treatment programs provided within the community. The purpose of all prisons is to hold convicted felons, serving a sentence of a year or more, and ensure that they remain safe and secure inside while serving their sentence.

The mission of the Federal Buera of Prisons is “To maintain secure, safe, and humane correctional institutions for individuals placed in the custody of the U.S. Attorney General; to develop and operate correctional programs that seek a balanced application of the concepts of punishment, deterrence, incapacitation and rehabilitation; and provide, primarily through the National Institute of Corrections, assistance to state and local correctional agencies (Federal)”. But not all prisons are the same. Minimum security prisons have lower staff numbers, less security, and shared rooms. Medium security prisons have more staff, more security, and cells for rooms. High-security prisons have the highest staff member to inmate ratio with the most amount of security measures, and cells for rooms. But all prisons “provide services and programs to address inmate needs, provide productive use-of-time activities, and facilitate the successful reintegration of inmates into society, consistent with community expectations and standards' (2018). This is where drug and alcohol treatment specialists fit into the prison staff system as they try to provide counseling, treatment plans, and education lessons to the substance abusing inmates to help them transfer successfully back into the community.

Prison culture is an influence of values and norms that prisoners learn from other prisoners and transition to while in the prison system. The Inmate Code, also known as the Convict Code, is a part of this prison culture. Inmates follows this culture and set of codes to keep on the good side of other inmates and serve their time as peacefully as possible. The Convict Code of Conduct, written by a former convict outlines the Convict Code as ten simple rules that all convicts must follow to be a true convict. These ten rules are “A true convict is incapable of snitching. No convict is ever a bully. A convict’s word is more binding than any contract. It is a convict’s nature to seek out peaceful compromises whenever possible. A convict would rather die fighting than live running. Convicts stand by their friends unto death. You’ll never see a convict trying to impress anyone; he just does. Never does a convict choose to lead, others just choose to follow. Convicts buy what they need before they buy what they want — and what they don’t have, they do without. And finally, all convicts are polite and courteous. They have nothing to prove to anyone' (Harris, 2017). This code is what separates a man from a convict. This code keeps the peace between inmates and rallies them up against the correctional officers. The Inmate Code is essentially a system within the system. The Inmate Code differs from the Organizational Code in a variety of ways. The Organizational Code are values, norms, and rules that correctional officers follow for their job. The Organizational Code is also a part of prison culture but instead its part of the correctional side instead of the inmate side. The Organizational Code values that correctional officers must follow include going to the aid of an officer when needed, never making another officer look bad in front of the inmates, supporting other officers, never smuggling items in for inmates or showing them sympathy, and never snitching on other officers if they are corrupt or brutal (Clark). This code may differ from the Inmate Code but it is also very similar in some aspects. Both codes do not tolerate snitching or fighting and emphasize courteousness.

Drug and alcohol treatment specialists deal with inmates in a very close setting. They have to learn about each inmates background, criminal history, substance history, how they are currently feeling and what they are doing. Each inmate is a different person with a different story to tell. They come from all walks of life and need different treatments based on their needs. Drug and alcohol specialists have to understand each and every inmate they see and treat to come up with the right plan based on education, medication, counseling, and rehabilitation. The role of drug and alcohol treatment specialists are so vital within the prison system. They are one of the many key roles within prisons that help rehabilitate criminals and put them back into the community as better parents, better siblings, better relative, better friends, better neighbors, and better citizens.

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The Role of Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialists Within the Prison System. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 16, 2024, from
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