Jail Alternatives for Substance Abusers

The Social Problem
Chapter 397 Florida Statute reads that “It is the intent of the Legislature to provide an
alternative to criminal imprisonment for substance abuse impaired adults and juvenile offenders
by encouraging the referral of such offenders to service providers not generally available within
the juvenile justice and correctional systems, instead of or in addition to criminal penalties.”
Within 25 miles of one single area code, 33444 (Delray Beach, FL), there are over 120
treatment centers for those suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. Results. (2020).
FindTreatment.Gov. https://findtreatment.gov/results/

People throughout the United States come to South Florida to seek substance use disorder
treatment. In 2016 it was the self proclaimed treatment center capitol of the U.S. In recent years
treatment has been scrutinized and become more regulated, making it more costly and less
attainable for many people in lower socioeconomic classes to receive help. Where many people
previously would be able to access treatment, money and the change in insurance laws and
policies, are now causing them to be turned away. The lack of resources for the middle and lower
class is creating new problems in Florida, such as homelessness, drug overdose death, and crime.
People struggling with substance use disorder are, more often than not, ending up in jail
instead of in treatment centers. Not only is criminalizing those with substance use disorders
wrong, but it also makes the substance users’ life more difficult when trying to reintegrate into
society, which can lead them back to the cycle of addiction and jail.

Legal charges and jail time create a cycle of arrest, release, repeat, which is similar to the
cycle of drug abuse and relapse. According to the report, entitled “Arrest, Release, Repeat,” at
least a quarter of the 4.9 million people arrested and booked in jail each year are repeat
offenders, and at least 428,000 people will go to jail three or more times over the course of a 12-month period. (Jones & Sawyer, 2019) If instead of jailing this population, we worked on a
solution to the larger problem, that could decrease crime and the population of people in and out
of the legal system.

A 2010 study (Online Only: Report Finds Most U.S. Inmates Suffer from Substance
Abuse or Addiction, 2010) found that of 2.3 million U.S. inmates, 1.5 million suffer from
substance abuse and another 458,000 inmates either had histories of substance abuse, were under
the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of committing their crimes; committed their
offenses to get money to buy drugs; were incarcerated for an alcohol or drug violation.
Combined, the two groups make up 85 percent of the U.S. prison population.

In the state of Florida alone, there is a 16.4 percent increase in SUD related deaths in
2020 (Products – Vital Statistics Rapid Release – Provisional Drug Overdose Data, 2020).
According to research, recently incarcerated people are over 40 times more likely to die from an
opioid overdose. (Department of Corrections, 2018) Florida is the self proclaimed drug treatment
capital of the United States, however there is still a large gap in who is receiving treatment
services versus who is seen as less worthy. In the state of Florida, the 25-34-year-old age group
has the highest total number of opioid-caused deaths. 36.2% of Florida inmates are between the
ages of 25-34. 57.9% of people incarcerated in the state of Florida are jailed for burglary, theft or
drug related offenses. In 2018, 58,616 grams of illicit drugs were confiscated in Florida jails and
prisons. Of the inmates released in 2014, 24.5% returned to prison within three years.
(Department of Corrections, 2018)

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, personal security, employment, health and
resources are a part of a person’s Safety Needs (Grinnell, Gabor & Unrau, 2019, p. 194). Jail or
prison time creates a barrier to these basic human needs. The data discussed above in regards to SUD and inmates presents a “normative need,” a social problem as defined by experts (Royse,
Thyer & Padgett, 2010, p. 57). But this need is also very much a “felt need,” which is a need
deemed necessary by people to address a deficit in their community, e.g., based on conversations
that I have had with people who are working on reintegrating into society after time spent
incarcerated for drug related offenses (Royse et al., 2010, p. 57).

Engaging Stakeholders
There are many different stakeholders invested in finding solutions to the number of
people imprisoned for substance use disorder related crimes. First, there are policymakers
(Grinnell et al., 2019, p. 11). The most important policy makers regarding this issue within Palm
Beach County Florida would be Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, State Attorney Dave Aronberg, and
Public Defender Carey Haughwout, as these would be the people working with police officers,
emergency medical technicians, as these people would all be working in tandem with a Program
Director to place those struggling with substance use disorder in a long term rehabilitation
center, in exchange for jail time.

The public must also believe that problem is important to them, and be willing to pressure
policymakers into prioritizing the crisis (Grinnell et al., 2019, p. 11). Unfortunately, substance
use disorder and crime are highly stigmatized throughout the nation. However the data collected
creates a picture of the issue as a whole. Working with local recovery advocates, such as
Southeast Florida Recovery Advocates, a nonprofit located in Jensen Beach, could be beneficial
in working with this data to create calls to actions for local elected officials.

Program funders are crucial, especially when it comes to finding the funds to send people
to treatment, that can often cost thousands of dollars a month. Much of the funding for state run
rehabilitation centers comes from the federal government and the Department of Children and
Families. Creating a new program that is offering treatment, whether through the DCF or
through private or non-profit development, will cost millions of dollars.

There are many different for profit agencies as well as nonprofit agencies that provide
different modalities of substance use disorder treatment, however none act solely as a diversion
program for those looking to escape lengthy prison sentences. Speaking with and collecting
information from different drug treatment programs and their administrators would be crucial in
knowing where there is a need, where there is recidivism, why these problems may be occuring
and which programs are less and most effective in long term sobriety.

One of the most important stakeholders for this assessment, are the clients. In this needs
assessment, clients are made up of 1) those struggling with substance abuse that have been
arrested, done jail time, and released back into society, 2) those who have received treatment as
an alternative to jail, 3) people struggling with substance use disorder. Those who have been
unable to access services and have experienced or are currently still struggling with SUD can
contribute to the assessment by expressing their needs to the officials and public. Stakeholder
groups would not understand why new funding is needed and why a program like this is
important without these people.

Describing the Program
The need is an option outside of prosecution for people with substance use disorder. The
solution to this problem and a way to meet the needs of this population is creating an alternative
sentencing program that allows these individuals to gain access to long term treatment options.
This program will work as an alternative solution for substance users that are facing
criminal charges that coincide with their addiction. The program would work with local and state
police, judges, public defenders and the state attorney’s office in a collaborative effort to get
people into drug rehabilitation programs instead of sending them to jail. Charging substance abusers with crime creates life long obstacles, outside of trying to achieve sobriety and living
constructively in society. Legal charges can create barriers to housing, employment, and can take
away one’s ability to vote in some states. Even being placed on parole or probation also assumes
that someone has access to a car to get to and from scheduled appointments, money for a bus
pass, safe living environment, and, if that person struggles with substance use disorder, a safe
recovery environment.

A program is needed to act as a diversion for clients that are facing jail or prison time due
to crimes that can be related to substance use disorder, including but not limited to paraphernalia,
possession, possession with intent to sell, prostitution, DWI and DUI, theft and/or theft scheme.
This program will work to create and implement change, with the goal being government
officials working towards keeping substance users out of jail and placing them in treatment as a
means to decrease substance use, decrease crime, decrease overdose death, and break down
barriers to basic needs of those recovering from substance use disorder. In order for this to be a
feasible option, the county sheriff’s office would work with a judge, attorney and public defender
who would be examining and choosing candidates on cases on a case by case basis. These
candidates would be given alternative sentences and enter a long term treatment program.
During their time in treatment they would be assigned a case manager to work alongside
them and a public defender. Each week the public defender would be giving updates to the judge
and state’s attorney. Once treatment is complete the client and their team would return to sit
before the judge to work on a plan that is dependent upon their actions, willingness, behaviors
and attitudes, while in treatment. The options for these people would be either A) monthly check ins with mandatory 12 step meeting, sober living, and job placement within the community, or
B) Time served and completing the remainder of the max sentence.

Florida has numerous treatment centers, both private and state funded, sober living
homes, nondenominational churches with people from many different socioeconomic
backgrounds, and an abundance of people in substance abuse recovery, which would be
important in a potential alternative sentencing clients long term goal of sobriety. Another asset
would be allowing these people to thrive within their community and find new places to put their
energy into, such as an education or work. There are many existing programs that work with
clients that have pending legal charges. Palm Beach County has a multitude of different
programs, from advocating for recovery services to programs specifically designed for people
recovering from drug or alcohol addiction. Southeast Florida Recovery Advocates works toward
common objectives surrounding all aspects of recovery. Florida Atlantic University has
programs designed for young people in recovery from substance use disorder, and Palm Beach
State College has many different academic scholarships for recovering addicts, one of the most
notable being tuition for those studying to become a nurse. There are multiple different job skill
training programs, which can be found on EmployFlorida’s website.

Focusing the Evaluation
The issue of substance users ending up in jail instead of treatment is complex and often
stigmatized. Many questions come to mind when thinking about substance use disorder and
crime. Which demographic groups struggling with addiction are more likely to end up receiving
jail time instead of treatment? Is treatment too expensive? How can we decide who gets
treatment and who goes to jail? Asking the right questions will lead to better solutions. False
assumptions in considering the root of the problem lead to neglect solutions. We also want to
better understand the nature of the problem. How widespread is it? When did we start
criminalizing substance use disorder? Is the problem getting worse or is it starting to improve?
We need for the evaluation to be purpose driven and have goals for the results (Grinnell et al.,
2019, p. 199). In this needs assessment, the purpose is to understand how we can divert
substance users into treatment by using jail alternatives. The goal is to use the results to create
change for people with substance use disorder and the justice system.

Gathering the Evidence
Once the needs assessment is focused and stakeholders are engaged, data collection
begins. New data in addition to existing data is important in gathering evidence. It is also
important to hear first-hand accounts of people experiencing the social problem. Interviews with
groups and individuals can provide valuable insight and can provide information that cannot be
fully captured statistically (Grinnell et al., 2019, p. 204).

Gathering data can take the form of an asset map. An asset map ensures that deficits are
not the only factors considered in an assessment. It identifies which programs are successful,
who are important advocates, and who the government agencies in charge of policy are. Asset
mapping can discover hidden resources that can increase capacity to address the affordability
problem (Allar et al., 2017). For example, different substance use disorder coalitions and support
groups would be an asset within the community, along with treatment centers that could
potentially be used as a diversion program.

Allar, I., Elliott, E., Jones, E., Kristjansson, A. L., Taliaferro, A., & Bulger, S. M. (2017).
Involving Families and Communities in CSPAP Development Using Asset Mapping.
Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 88(5), 7-14.
Grinnell, R. M., Gabor, P. A., & Unrau, Y. A. (2019). Program evaluation for social workers:
Foundations of evidence-based programs (8th ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University
Department of Corrections. (2018). Florida Department of Corrections 2017-2018 Annual
Report. http://www.dc.state.fl.us/pub/annual/1718/FDC_AR2017-18.pdf
Online only: Report finds most U.S. inmates suffer from substance abuse or addiction (40 (3)
E11). (2010, April). The Nations Health.
Products – Vital Statistics Rapid Release – Provisional Drug Overdose Data. (2020).
CDC.GOV. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/drug-overdose-data.htm
Royse, D. D., Thyer, B. A., & Padgett, D. K. (2010). Program evaluation: An introduction (Fifth
ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Torgerson, C. N., Love, H. A., & Vennum, A. (2018). The buffering effect of belonging on the
negative association of childhood trauma with adult mental health and risky alcohol use.
Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 88, 44–50.

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