People with mental and/or substance use disorders involved with the justice system face many challenges on their path to recovery, such as misconceptions, shortages of treatment, and difficult transitions. Many people in the justice system, including incarcerated individuals and those recently released from jail or prison, have experienced the effects of behavioral health conditions, which include both mental and/or substance use disorders. In 2005, approximately three-fourths of people in State prisons and local jails with a mental health problem also met the clinical criteria for substance dependence or abuse.1 Many effective treatments, services, and supports specifically designed for these individuals exist.
A continuum of care supports those in the criminal justice system before, during, and after incarceration. Some effective initiatives include drug and mental health courts, jail diversion programs, counseling interventions, medically assisted treatment, cognitive therapy, correctional therapeutic communities, and community reentry programs that include drug treatment and recovery support. These and other efforts provide support for people and families who need help for mental and/or substance use disorders.
The 23rd annual National Recovery Month (Recovery Month) observance this September will celebrate the effectiveness of treatment services and the reality of recovery. Recovery Month is sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
This year's theme, "Join the Voices for Recovery: It's Worth It," emphasizes that while the road to recovery may be difficult, the benefits of preventing and overcoming mental and/or substance use disorders are significant and valuable to individuals, families, and communities. People in recovery achieve healthy lifestyles, both physically and emotionally, while contributing in positive ways to their communities. They also prove to family members, friends, and others that prevention works, treatment is effective, and people recover.
Recovery Month supports many of SAMHSA's Strategic Initiatives, which guide SAMHSA's work to help people with mental and/or substance use disorders and their communities and families. SAMHSA works to prevent costly behavioral health conditions and promote overall health and well-being for all Americans. SAMHSA's Trauma and Justice Strategic Initiative is dedicated to reducing the behavioral health impact of trauma. It addresses the needs of people with mental and/or substance use disorders and those with histories of trauma within the criminal and juvenile justice systems.
This document details the need for recovery support services for people and their families involved in the criminal justice system, and provides action steps to facilitate recovery. Refer to the "Join the Voices for Recovery" document in this toolkit to learn about real-life recovery journeys from mental and/or substance use disorders.
Behavioral Health Conditions in Criminal Justice Populations
The need for treatment for mental and/or substance use disorders among people involved with the criminal justice system is critical. In 2005, individuals who experienced mental health problems accounted for 56 percent of State prisoners, 45 percent of Federal prisoners, and 64 percent of jail inmates.2 Substance use diagnoses are even more prevalent: in 2009, between 60 percent and 80 percent of adult males aged 18 to 49 under the supervision of the criminal justice system had a substance-use related issue.3
Many of those affected are young adults or adolescents, making it important to acknowledge behavioral health conditions early and obtain treatment and support before problems deepen. Evidence shows that youth who had been in jail or a detention center were more likely to have used illicit drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes in the past year than youth who had never been in these facilities.4
Fortunately, effective addiction treatment has been shown to decrease an individual's future drug use and drug-related criminal behavior, improve family relationships, and increase prospects for employment.5
Recovery is Worth it for People in the Criminal Justice System
SAMHSA defines recovery as a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.6 People in the criminal justice system can take their first steps of recovery by:7
- Recognizing that they have a disorder and that it is a treatable problem;
- Asking family members for help beginning a treatment program;
- Asking a court or probation officer about getting help with mental and/or substance use disorders; and
- Asking a lawyer or a court officer about local programs.
There is no "single solution" for how to address mental and/or substance use disorders, but for every individual, every step is worth it. Treatment and recovery support services offered by providers and peers are delivered during different stages for people in the criminal justice system. For example, services can be provided prior to incarceration (e.g., jail diversion and drug courts), in criminal justice facilities (e.g., treatment and recovery services, peer support), and post-release (e.g., transitional, peer support, and community-based services). Examples and benefits of these types of treatment and recovery support services include:
SAMHSA's Jail Diversion Program for Adults – Diverts individuals with mental illness (and often co-occurring substance use disorders) from the criminal justice system to community-based treatment and recovery-related services;8
Community-based services – Provide some portions of the jail population the opportunity to live, work, and receive treatment services in the community, often at contracted halfway houses, in pre-release facilities, or at home under monitoring surveillance;9 and
Peer support services – Demonstrate that people understand and have experienced the benefits of recovery from mental and/or substance use disorders and can share their recovery stories. Positive reinforcement can help people recognize progress made.10 Examples include Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Dual Recovery Anonymous.
Make a Difference During Recovery Month and Throughout the Year
This September and throughout the year, SAMHSA encourages all people involved in the criminal justice system to participate in Recovery Month. To make a difference in someone's life:
Provide information about local reentry programs and resources to individuals reentering the community. As a family member, friend, probation officer, or legal counsel to someone in the criminal justice system, consult the U.S. Office of Justice Program State Activities and Resources database to locate available resources to ease the transition from jail or prison back to the community.
Act as a supportive figure to friends or family who are incarcerated, on probation, or on parole by listening to and understanding their challenges, monitoring for signs of mental and/or substance use disorders, and encouraging them to seek recovery support services, if necessary.
Share your story if you were involved in the criminal justice system and are now in recovery from a mental and/or substance use disorder. Help others learn about treatment and recovery options, as well as provide support and encouragement for those just beginning their journey. Letting others know they are not alone has a profound effect on an individual's will to live in recovery.
Additional Recovery Resources
A variety of resources provide additional information on Recovery Month, mental and/or substance use disorders, and prevention, treatment, and recovery support services. Use the toll-free numbers and websites below to share your experiences, learn from others, and seek help from professionals. Through these resources, individuals can interact with others and find support on an as-needed, confidential basis.
SAMHSA's Website – Leads efforts to reduce the impact of mental and/or substance use disorders on communities nationwide.
SAMHSA's National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or 1-800-487-4889 (TDD) – Provides 24-hour free and confidential treatment referral and information about mental and/or substance use disorders, prevention, and recovery in English and Spanish.
SAMHSA's "Find Substance Abuse and Mental Health Treatment" Website – Contains information about treatment options and special services located in your area.
SAMHSA's "Considerations for the Provision of E-Therapy" Report – Shares extensive information on the benefits, issues, and success of e-therapy.
SAMHSA's ADS Center – Provides information and assistance to develop successful efforts to counteract prejudice and discrimination and promote social inclusion.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) – Provides a free, 24-hour helpline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
Federal Bureau of Prisons – Provides progressive, safe, and humane care for Federal inmates. It offers mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and other self-improvement opportunities.
For more information,read the in-depth version of this guide. Information about treatment options and special services in your area can be found by calling 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or 1-800-487-4889 (TDD), as well as at http://www.samhsa.gov/treatment.
Inclusion of websites and resources in this document and on the Recovery Month website does not constitute official endorsement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.