Helping Inmates With Addiction and Mental Illness

Helping Inmates With Addiction and Mental IllnessLeaders from the prison system, law enforcement and advocacy groups in Texas recently came together to discuss the important issue of dual-diagnosis inmates in state prisons with state legislators. Inmates in the Texas prison system who have been diagnosed as having a mental illness as well as a substance abuse disorder are more likely to re-offend and end up back in jail than their peers. Leaders in the state hope to reduce the rates of these people coming back to prison by better addressing their illnesses and providing more effective treatments.

Addiction and Mental Illness

Both addiction and a number of mental illnesses or psychiatric disorders are considered to be genuine and serious medical conditions. And yet their treatment is often not taken as seriously as physical illnesses. When the two occur together in one person, a situation called a dual diagnosis, treatment for both must be addressed.

Substance abuse and mental illness often co-occur for several reasons. Many times someone with a mental illness, especially one that is untreated, will abuse drugs or alcohol as a way of self-medicating. While the person with the mental illness feels better when using, in the long run, the abuse of substances will make the mental illness worse. It works the other way as well. The abuse of drugs or alcohol can cause a person to experience symptoms of a mental illness for the first time.

In treating someone with a dual diagnosis, research indicates that both issues must be addressed. In many cases it helps to detox the patient before beginning treatment for the mental illness as well as the addiction. Substance abuse often leads to emergency medical situations and so the addiction is often given more attention. It is important, however, to treat both illnesses to ensure the patient does not relapse.

Dual-Diagnosis Inmates in Texas

Lawmakers in Texas have begun to focus on better treating inmates with a dual diagnosis in an effort to reduce recidivism rates. The overall rate has been going down, but less so for dual-diagnosis inmates. They are still more likely than other incarcerated people to reoffend and end up back in the prison system. Prison officials say that inmates cost the state $50 every day, a price that motivates legislators to try to keep more people out of jail.

To better help these inmates, legislators from a few House committees met with mental health and substance abuse advocacy groups as well as prison officials. The group decided that the best way to prevent dual-diagnosis offenders from going back to jail was to provide better services for them on the outside. When these inmates are released, they often have nowhere to go for continued treatment; they are left to their own devices. If given better options for continued care, they would be more likely to stay out of jail. Advocacy groups also hope to improve the treatment options for people before they ever end up in prison. If addicts who have committed a crime could be treated instead of incarcerated, they may be less likely to reoffend.

Another issue that the committees discussed was the need to have better records of inmates with dual diagnoses. Currently, the system only tracks inmates by the type of prison in which they served time, not by their diagnoses for substance abuse or mental illness. Better records could help officials to better serve inmates in need of care. By addressing these important issues, lawmakers in Texas are taking important steps toward better serving those in the state who most need help.