There is no evidence that incarcerating a person with an addiction will permanently cure him or her. Neither is there evidence that incarcerating a person with an addiction who commits a minor crime is effective. Research shows it is certainly not a best practice.
Some states understand this and are offering treatment for a drug addiction instead of jail. But some states continue to lock up people while they are going through withdrawal, and then not providing medical care which can cause serious medical complications, including death. Many of the victims of substandard medical attention during withdrawal from drugs are women who have committed a minor crime.
On April 1, 2015, following a five month review of over 200 lawsuits, RH Reality Check published an article that found drug treatment for women who are incarcerated is “…inconsistent and inadequate—and in some incidents…it is fatal.”
Punished for Addiction: Women Prisoners Dying From Lack of Treatment
by Zoe Greenberg, Investigative Fellow, RH Reality Check and Sharona Coutts, Vice President, Investigations and Research, RH Reality Check
Tracy Lee Veira had been in jail for seven days when she was finally allowed to have visitors. Popular in her hometown of Orange City, Florida, Veira had a web of friends eager to see her, as well as two young children who were restless for their mother.
For years Veira had skirted the law, possessing cocaine, violating probation. Once, Veira was pulled over by the local sheriff for driving without a license for the third time in a row. According to her mother, Donna Mullins, Veira threw her keys on the hood and said, “Please, take my keys! I have a problem with driving!”
Most recently Veira had been arrested for “doctor shopping”: requesting the same Oxycodone prescription from three different doctors.
But Veira was also trying to remake her life. In early September 2009, she had turned herself in to the Volusia County Jail for an outstanding warrant, wanting to put her trouble behind her, according to her mother.
When she entered the jail, Veira told officials she had been taking Oxycodone, a highly addictive opioid pain medication, every day, even as recently as that morning.
But the medical staff at the Volusia County Jail did virtually nothing with that information. They did not document what she said, did not speak to her former doctor or outside pharmacy, did not make any plans to continue her medication, and did not order any follow-up care, according to a lawsuit later filed by Veira’s estate against the correctional health-care company that manages most of Florida’s corrections facilities, Corizon Health.
After three days in jail, Veira was feeling nauseous and scared. She couldn’t keep anything down. She was transferred to a solitary confinement cell, closer to the guards who were ostensibly monitoring her deteriorating health.
For the next few days, Veira tried to get the guards to help her. By the seventh night, Veira was so ill that Patty Blair, a childhood friend who was also at the jail while Veira was there, could hear Veira’s cries.
“It was frightening to hear her beg them, because you could hear in her voice that she didn’t feel good,” Blair told RH Reality Check. Blair says the correctional officers told Veira to lie down, that she simply had a leg cramp and needed to rest.
In fact Veira was undergoing a dangerous detox.