top of page

"Jail saves lives and treats addiction"

The Tired Narrative: 

Since drug use is criminalized, people with substance use disorders often have experience with the criminal justice system. In order to sustain addiction, people might steal, sell drugs, or commit other crimes that stem from their substance use disorder.

News articles report that jails and prisons are "treating" addiction. Journalists quote people who say: "Jail is the best thing that ever happened to me."


Articles refer to treatment in jails as "boot camps,""detox," or describe "treatment programs" that involve self-help meetings, often without medical or clinical components.


The Informed Narrative: 

Jails and prisons throughout America do not provide adequate health care for substance use disorders and other mental and physical health conditions. There are numerous reports of people dying in their cells from withdrawal, an otherwise non-life threatening condition. 


Unless a jail or prison has dedicated physicians that prescribe FDA-approved medications for treating addiction, it is unlikely that addiction is truly being "treated."

Rather than quoting people who claim that jail and prison saved their life, journalists should ask which parts of their experience proved to be therapeutic


There are nationwide reports of people fatally overdosing on drugs or dying from withdrawal while imprisoned and detained. Jail is not treatment, and rarely is it a therapeutically appropriate setting. Unless a jail is offering the three FDA-approved medications for opioid use disorder, they're unlikely "treating" addiction. Moreover, people who are released from jail or prison are at a substantially higher risk of fatal overdose upon re-entering society. Studies prove that using medications in jail substantially reduce the risk of fatal re-entry.

Connect with Expert Sources:

Dr. Jonathan Giftos, medical director opioid treatment program - Rikers Island

Screenshot 2019-04-05 01.57.19.png

Dr. Sarah Wakeman, Addiction Medicine, Mass. General Hospital

Screenshot 2019-04-05 01.57.19.png
bottom of page