Thursday, March 26, 2009

Drug Addicts Punished in New York Prisons

Drug offenders get “the box” instead of treatment.

The common practice of placing drug addicts in “disciplinary segregation” for drug use violations in New York state prisons has drawn fire from Human Rights Watch. The international human rights group issued a report condemning the practice of placing addicts in “the box” and denying them treatment for their drug dependence, calling it “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”

In the report, entitled “Barred from Treatment: Punishment of Drug Users in New York State Prisons,” Human Rights Watch notes that even addicts who are allowed to seek treatment face major delays “because treatment programs are filled to capacity.” New York State Assemblyman Jeff Aubry, chair of the State Committee on Corrections, told the investigators: “Denying treatment to inmates who suffer from a drug dependency is illogical and counterproductive to the goal of rehabilitation.”

Some of the findings in the report are shocking: “Despite overwhelming evidence that medication-assisted therapy is the most effective treatment for opiate addiction, the majority of New York State prisoners dependent on heroin or other opiates have no access to methadone or buprenorphine.” Furthermore, the state’s Department of Correctional Services “has conducted few evaluations of its own treatment programs.” Prison officials have estimated that as many as eight out of ten inmates have substance abuse problems. A National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) study earlier this year, covered in a previous post, estimated that only one-fifth of the nation’s inmates needing formal treatment are able to get it.

The report comes just as New York legislators have agreed to revamp the so-called Rockefeller drug laws, which are among the strictest in the nation. “Reforming the Rockefeller drug laws to prevent drug users from being sentenced to long prison sentences is critically important, said Megan McLemore, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. “But timely and effective programs must be available to serve the inmates still in prison.” McLemore said in a press release that “discipline should be proportionate to the offense, and should never prevent prisoners from getting the treatment they need.”

As a prisoner at Attica told Human Rights Watch, “Here is a notice telling me ‘it could be a long time’ until I get into treatment again. There’s plenty of room for me in the box, but not in a program.”

Photo Credit: ACS blog

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