Prison addicts

THE National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) says there is an urgent need for treatment of inmates who are hooked on drugs, before their release into the general population, given the strong link between drug use and criminal activity.

“In 2015 we did a survey in all adult prisons to look at the relationship between drugs and crime — of course we know that the relationship is real. There are a number of inmates in our system who have substance disorders and who require treatment right now, urgently,” Uki Atkinson, research analyst at the council, told the Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange this week.

Atkinson was part of a panel of experts from the NCDA sharing views in recognition of Drug Awareness Month.

Drug addiction, also called substance use disorder, is a disease that affects a person’s brain and behaviour and leads to an inability to control the use of a legal or illegal drug or medicine.

According to Atkinson, the need for treatment of incarcerated addicts is one which was recently highlighted for her by a member of the drug treatment court who is prodding the NCDA “to advance drug treatment in the penal institutions so that the people who most need it — before they are released — needs are met”.

The NCDA is responsible for formulating and developing plans and projects for the prevention of drug abuse, its abatement, and the rehabilitation of drug abuse victims. It also conducts drug tests for individuals and organisations, drug counselling and research, and forms part of the rehabilitation team within the penal system.

Further, the panellists said a project the agency wrote to get additional personnel to do interventions in the penal system following a 2015 prison survey is gathering dust.

In the 2015 study, of those who were incarcerated for drug-related crimes, 17 per cent had committed the crime for which they were incarcerated while under the influence, 33 per cent committed the crime to be able to get the drug that they were addicted to, while 58 per cent said their use was because of organised crime.

“All over the world drugs are in prison. When we did the survey there were inmates who reported use within the last 24 hours, and it wasn’t mind-boggling data because it is known that substances are in prison. The NCDA is not focused on the supply side; we are focused on the intervention side — and there is clear recognition. We know there is the need to take those treatment services to the prison population,” Atkinson stressed.

She said while the NCDA was concerned that such inmates were falling through the cracks because of the lack of resources, it was continuing its efforts in other areas.

“We have been able to do things like increased risk perception among children, that is evident; we have been able to raise the onset of substance use by a year, so it was the average age of 11-12, it is now 12 and 13 — it took us seven years to do that,” Atkinson highlighted.

In addition, an Inter-American Development Bank study covering 2016 to 2017 reported inmates as saying they used drugs and alcohol mere hours before they committed crimes in 21 per cent of cases.

Behind prison walls, more than 40 per cent of inmates said they used drugs and alcohol while over 70 per cent said they had seen other inmates use banned substances.

According to the report, respondents claimed that the prison staff were the ones to smuggle most of the drugs inside to them.

In the meantime, director of client services at the NCDA Collette Kirlew said in order to attempt to deal with that shortfall, the NCDA trained the correctional officers in doing the screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment (SBIRT), “so they have that as an additional component that they can deliver to the inmates”.

“We, with more personnel, would love to do the interventions in the prison system but to date that has not materialised. We tried in 2015 after the survey; we wrote a project to get additional personnel. It wasn’t something that could have been accommodated at the time,” she said.

Meanwhile, executive director of the NCDA Michael Tucker, noting other initiatives such as a pilot which involved music as part of the treatment, said, “The way people socialise (or don’t socialise) in the prison setting, what they are exposed to in there, their reality is so skewed that by the time they get out it is a very different person — psychological help has to be offered in there to help them to cope.

“There are people in there that shouldn’t have been there. Can you imagine? So this person [is] deprived of their freedom and they should be free. So, there are a number of things that we have to do, and we have to look at all aspects of things to really have a whole person when the person comes out but, as you and I know, that’s not the reality that we face,” he stated.

The NCDA on Friday launched a national school tour in recognition of Drug Awareness Month under the theme ‘Drug-Free Lifestyle Trending’. Those tours will continue over the next two years. The entity will also be conducting several town hall meetings and interactive sessions islandwide.

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