As a society we should be embarrassed by how many of our citizens are in prison due to problems associated with untreated addiction. We have the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world with approximately 2.3 million people behind bars. If we add those on probation and parole the number jumps to almost 7 million under correctional supervision!
And I have not even mentioned the 70,000 juveniles we are grooming for later prison life. What is so troubling about these statistics is that they are primarily the result of mandatory sentencing laws put in place in the 1980’s to enforce the war on drugs.
Most now realize the war on drugs has been a miserable failure. Putting people behind bars when the drivers behind their crimes are addiction-related is costly and fails to address the underlying problem(s). We know that many will get out and that recidivism rates are quite high.
One recent study indicated that more than 1 in 4 offenders return to prison within three years. And we know that when addiction goes untreated it most often returns, leading many who get out of prison right back in. While I believe we need to evolve our drug sentencing laws, and there is evidence that things are changing for the better, this post is not about that. It is also not about the proliferation of drug courts that offer an alternative to prison.
Instead, I want to comment on what we can do for those who are behind bars right now (and will be in the future). In short, I think we should make use of their time in jail to prepare them to succeed in life once they get out.
Can we succeed?
Here are a few outcomes I think we as a society should support:
- Stay clean and sober, manage co-occurring disorders, and maintain physical health
- Use personal talents to benefit society
- Develop a spiritual life
- Keep learning and growing as a person
- Obey society’s laws
- Seek out help when times become stressful
I am sure you can add to this list, but it is a good start.
Achieving these goals
In short, we develop a technology-based intervention system that individualizes behavioral health treatment and education for a fraction of what it would cost to utilize humans (nothing against humans). Some thoughts on why I believe developing a technology based intervention system is more than possible.
Studies show that timing is critical for helping people with many problems, including addiction, depression, and other life issues. (Those in prison have nothing but time, and are in a place where we can take advantage of a motivational window of opportunity.)
Computer memory is superior to humans and can track far more information about a person’s life, and leverage points for change.
New treatment interventions can be programmed into the system, where there is a much longer learning curve for humans.
Delivery of interventions can be more consistent.
Online systems can track outcomes in real-time and make adjustments accordingly. (Most treatment today doesn’t include a formal outcome process, let alone changing therapy based on adaptive outcomes.)
Relationship with an online system can last indefinitely, whereas human counselors are less consistent. (i.e., the turnover rate in addiction treatment programs is higher than in fast food restaurants).
Online treatment is significantly less costly than human treatment.
Studies show people are more apt to disclose sensitive issues to a computer than a human. (Issues like: sexual abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, shaming behaviors.)
An online intervention system can link and communicate more consistently with other important stakeholders in a person’s life, including: primary care physicians, specialty providers, medication providers, legal system, pharmacies, insurance providers, complementary and alternative care providers, mental health and addiction programs (if necessary), and employers.
Online systems are flexible and can consult with humans when necessary – so human’s time can be used most efficiently (i.e., expert humans are not replaceable, they are just in limited supply).
And perhaps most important, the system can be utilized to manage ongoing treatment and educational goals both in and outside of prison seamlessly, and help manage parole and probation responsibilities.
Is it easy to develop and implement?
No. I think it would require a lot of work on behalf of many stakeholder groups. But I believe it is what we need to do as a society if we care about our future and the future of our children.
I also made a couple of brief videos on how I would utilize the 5 Actions framework in an online system for those behind bars. Excuse the coffee breaks, it is early Sunday morning.
Geoffrey J. says
Overall I must agree with you that use of online tools to aid in the recovery of inmates will be effective. Although, I have a few comments and concerns.
First, the program used to gather inmate information and eventually interact with inmates is only a good or effective as the code it is written on. One unfortunate fact about programming is that the program will have no intuitive sense with respect to the person interacting with the program. Even if intuition were written into the program the intuition would be still be limited to the intuition limited by the code. I agree that a program such as this would be useful in gathering and storing information about inmates, but I’m not sure how effective it will be at identifying treatment modalities without a human sense of intuition. (For further reading on the limitations of code I would suggest reading Code 2.0, Lawrence Lessig)
Second, you mentioned creating a virtual group of people to help with treatment. Do you in fact mean a virtual group of people or a real group of people in a virtual environment? As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the program used to create a virtual person is limited to the creativity of the writer of the program and the code the program is written by. Virtual reality may have its place in treatment, but do you not fear that virtual interactions might create virtual feelings? Virtual feelings that can be easily dismissed by the human psyche because they are not based in reality but based in virtual reality? (Jaron Lanier was a pioneer in virtual reality and he has a couple of books that talk about the strengths and weaknesses of virtual reality)
This is an interesting approach in treating large groups of addicts. I am interested in hearing more about this subject. Please, develop these thoughts further and continue to share them.
I agree with your comment that those in prison really have nothing but time and more could be done to treat drug addictions and to manage mental illnesses than is currently being done. There has been a gradual shift in how the public views drug abuse and more are now seeing it as a health issue and no so much of a criminal justice issue. Hopefully this will lead to more balanced budget allocation for in-jail treatment.
While I can appreciate the common-sense approach that having a technology-based intervention system, I’m not sure if removing the human aspect of treatment would really be beneficial. While I am sure it is an accurate fact that people are more honest with a computer (because really how can a machine judge you), I think having a real, breathing counselor that can give you feedback that is not programmed would in fact be more beneficial in the long run. I do agree that more needs to be done to reduce counselor turn-over and have consistency in treatment.
Kari, I agree, people are better, but there is not enough money to hire counselors and other interventionists for the vast numbers of people behind bars. Instead, we will need to intervene in a more cost-effective manner, and reserve counselors for cases where technology fails. It is in no way a perfect solution, but it is better than what we have right now. Thanks for the feedback.
Thanks for the feedback. As to your first point, the most popular evaluation system used in treatment today is a program! Check out the ASI-MV (https://www.asi-mvconnect.com/). Also, we have many validated assessment tools that can be done online and provide most of what we need to assess behavioral health issues accurately. In addition, once we have diagnoses we essentially know what evidence-based practices are most appropriate. Now, translating those EBPs into online interventions will not be easy, but is doable.
As to your second point, I agree, VR is in its infant stages. But it is being used successfully to treatment combat PTSD (http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Top_Story&template=/contentmanagement/contentdisplay.cfm&ContentID=147475). The most important aspect in the design of this part of the system is helping those behind bars increase their emotional intelligence, and close gaps in developmental constrictions. Again, not easy, but doable. We simply don’t have the manpower to bring into prisons to do this work.
In my opinion, it is amazing that our country has not figured out that the “war on drugs” is not working to reduce the use of drugs and manage crime for our society. It has been over 40 years and the incarceration rate has skyrocketed while not really grasping a concept that works to reduce recidivism and addiction.
Unfortunately, once one is incarcerated for using a substance, they are released into society with little to no rehabilitation needed to sustain from using drugs and other criminal activity. There is rarely any assistance to provide for basic needs and therefore no wonder one decides to use drugs and act criminally.
Your idea of offering those who are incarcerated an electronic counseling session is amazing. While the experiments may begin with inmates, this idea could branch into a way to offer those with addictions a long term relationship with help and guidance. This could be the answer to begin to treat addiction as it is, a chronic problem. One could attend their weekly session, and if they may need any extra assistance that week, they could see the necessary doctor.
You make a good point in another video, there should be a way all the doctors work together to provide the best care possible to the patient.
This was very informative to read, thank you for sharing.
Joanna B. says
The mentioned benefits of an online treatment system are very realistic. Computers fortunately and unfortunately can surpass the human mind in many ways. They are more reliable and accurate and provide less room for error among the things.
Although they may lack the human touch, they may be more practical. Many people may indeed have an easier time opening up when they are not sitting in front of an actual person. It is well known that the feeling of anonymity that the online environment provides leads many people to reveal more things than they normally would or to say things that they would not when speaking face to face with someone.
An online treatment program may be one of the best inventions ever!
sammie B. says
This was not only a very informative post but also showed your passion for helping people suffering with addiction. I agree that we need to make better use of the inmates time incarcerated in order for them to be successful once they are back out in society.
It seems that once one is incarcerated during the stay they do not get the true help that they need. Once they are released without proper rehabilitation they too often become repeat offenders and then it becomes an awful cycle. Many people destroyed the relationships that they had before going to jail, if they had any to begin with. Now they are released without the tools or knowledge of how to build healthy relationships which is so important when dealing with the battle of addiction!
I think the idea of electronic counseling sounds great! It would provide some stability that they have not had prior to being incarcerated. Although, I think one on one counseling would be ideal we both know this is impossible for many reasons.
amy kuper13 says
When I saw the idea that we should use technology to help treat and educate I had my doubts. I was thinking people will not take this seriously. It is just a computer screen they’ll just get done with the program and not take it to heart. However, as I read on I see that it is stated that online systems are flexible and that when needed, human contact can occur. Also, I see that when people are behind a computer screen they are able to open up more. On the contrary though when people are on the computer they can lie too. With those two sides though if they are willing to lie on the computer getting someone in there to talk to them probably will not help much either. So as I read on I start to see the idea and I agree with it.
Also it is mentioned early on about the 70k juveniles, that we are “grooming for prison life.” My mom works with these kids and when talking with her she said that the amount of files has gone down a great deal. They don’t come in as often for drug possession charges. I think this is the beginning of us stepping away from the War on Drugs, which in my opinion is a good thing. The war on drugs was just a money pit.
Lastly I would like to add that it would be good to see more community support for recovering addicts. I think sometimes communities treat these recovering addicts as outcasts. Maybe having more community based programs where addicts can help the community while staying out of trouble would be beneficial. In return the community will see that these addicts are a good part of society. That these addicts are human beings and they deserve respect and support.
Carlos Aaron Baeza says
Family settings are the first intuition of socialization often impacting our understanding about society. Our culture applies a foundation where all member of society must acknowledge and pursue acceptable norms and those who fail should be punished. Part of that is because prohibitions have not only failed in its promises, but allowed new problems to surge. Over the last 40 years the war on drugs has not lower much, since 1980 when it peaked. One of the reasons is because the government implies unreasonable laws; someone who is charged of a possession will automatically go to jail. It’s incredible that the U.S can’t find a solution to this social problem. We say that treatments are expensive, but we spend more money on trying to control the social aspect and loose focus on the personal level. I think that your idea is excellent. One of the things we always ask others and ourselves, how much is this going to cost? And as you said online treatment is significantly less costly than human treatment. Many prisons in the United States have programs that allow prisoners to develop useful skills. So it should be only fair to offer this online program because as you said, “timing is critical for helping people with many problems, including addiction, depression, and other life issues. Those in prison have nothing but time, and are in a place where we can take advantage of a motivational window of opportunity.” This is an excellent idea that I feel will help diminish the war on drugs, but most importantly help people who suffer with addiction.
Cheryl Hagen says
Non-Violent drug offenders shouldn’t be placed in jail in the first place but since they are then they should be given the help they need for their addiction; I like the technology help that this program would give the inmates but it isn’t the same as human interaction. The use of both might be a better combination for success in helping these individuals.
Cory Johnson says
As I learn more about the extent of how drug addiction effects the addict and the institutions surrounding them, it becomes more and more evident that we need to reorganize the way we look at and deal with drug addiction and abuse.
I like the idea of looking at what can be done in the meantime to help the inmates who suffer from addiction who are currently incarcerated and who will become incarcerated in the future before any major reform is completed with respect to drug law sentencing policies. If the rehabilitation practice can start before the offender is released, maybe they will have a higher chance of being informed on what they need to do in order to continue their recovery upon release.
More policies and laws need to be developed to handle drug offenses better. The implementation and use of drug courts have some promising statistics about being a useful tool to use as an alternative to incarceration. Incarceration in a sense focuses on the perspective of incapacitation, which will not help a drug offender get on the road to recovery. We need to move away from the instant incarceration strategy and build on rehabilitation strategies to heal this unique issue.
Wendie Smith says
I came upon your blog via a class I am taking for my undergraduate degree and while I have been reading your blog since it was introduced and have used many of your resources, nothing caught my attention as much as your ideas regarding the use of computers for treatment of our jails populations.
Having studied this extremely concerning issue now for a while, I have seen and heard of many different ideas and approaches but nothing like this. Sadly, the argument always seems to come down to costs and while I think everyone agrees that the “War on Drugs” has been a failure, nobody can seem to agree with a resolution thus leaving those incarcerated and their families suffering. I think that your ideas of using computers to not only collect data, but begin treatment on a multitude of levels is ingenious and should be looked into further. With the repeat offender rate so high for addicts and the treatments while incarcerated either insufficient or nonexistent I think your ideas could have an enormous impact on this population.
I believe it is part of our duty as members of this society to help at least try and come up with new ideas and ways to help improve the picture for future generations, and this is definitely a great one! With the cost of computers being so low compared to us human kind, not to mention all the other reasons you gave in your post and videos, AND the comprehensiveness that this type of program to have, it seems clear that it is something definitely worth looking at. I truly hope you continue to pursue this and look forward to following up on it in the future.
Thank you for work and great ideas!
Thanks much for the feedback! We will keeping working on it.
I find your approach to assisting drug addiction to incarcerated individuals very interesting and different. I agree for the need of evaluating the health and well being of the people behind bars. There needs to be a system in place for a path of recovery. If we allow a perpetuate cycle of poor physical and mental practices in prisons, incarcerated people are unable to improve their lives. Without feedback and evaluations to a path of well being, I believe it is likely for incarcerated individuals to go back to old habits, because they have no insight or assistance to how they can better their life.
In my own opinion, I think that human contact is key to human development. Although I agree that the cost of this virtual evaluation and recovery system is cheaper than paying someone, this creates some questions to myself about the dissipating relationship between incarcerated individuals and society. Incarceration provides solitude, a lack of healthy human interaction and rehabilitation methods. There seems to be a lack of support from society for the need of rehabilitation of these individuals. Once people reach prison, they are left to sit behind bars and marinate in their emotional problems. I find this interesting that computers are needed to come into play in order to refurbish human qualities without using human interaction as the main key. The will of society to help individuals who are incarcerated back to a path of healthy relationships and status, is invisible. When do we ever talk about recovery paths for prisoners? When we are not directly effected by a problem, we tend ignore the problem of incarcerated individuals needing treatment.
Human interaction in society is something that we all cherish, We love being able to speak our mind and have real people respond. I think that social interaction is key to rehabilitation. Social interaction is why we are here blogging, so we can speak from an unique perspective and hear each other. The idea of incarcerated individuals using an online system as a substitute for human interaction, slightly closes the reality of rehabilitation and chance these individuals have to stay out of prison. I do agree that online education and evaluations can come into play as a role in recovering psychologically and physically, but human interactions should not be forgotten.
Dr. Fitzgerald’s article raises some questions to myself about how a computer can accurately assist each human from the next. We all have unique personal experiences that bring us to where we are today, and I think that incarcerated individuals cannot be placed in categories for action plans. I think that computers provide empirical formulas to resolving problems, and computers could not be accurate in providing the correct type of treatment a human needs. I do agree with Dr. Fitzgerald on carrying out action plans, but I think that perhaps people need a combination of action plans to succeed. An example, is that maybe someone is a part of the chronic and resolution category.
It seems also, with virtual treatment, individuals are able to put on “virtual feelings” that could differ from the type of interaction one would have face to face. When we are on the computer chatting online with friends virtually, it is different than when we do physically. The interaction process is completely different. How do we know individuals are taking the program seriously? are they saying only what they need to, to get out of prison? is the online treatment too impersonal?
I highly enjoyed reading this unique outlook of online treatment and education. I hope that my comments were a different perspectives of computers as a way to help the incarcerated. I think that the action plan and treatment could definitely work with some refinement.
Thanks and Cheers!
I don’t disagree about the value of human relationships, but the sad truth is there are simply not enough human counselors to meet the significant needs of those behind bars. Also, I believe it is possible to create online intervention systems that can serve as”good enough” substitutes to achieve positive outcomes. It is a brave new world :)
thanks for the feedback
Sara K. Johnson says
I 100% agree with your ideas about the importance of humanizing “drug problems”. So many people are cast aside as statistics, labeled as an outlier to our society and then abandoned. I do also understand that all the combined resources we have cannot even begin to provide the types of services that every user needs to successfully recover. Money, advocacy, and societal support are scarce and despite the fact that many agree that the “War on Drugs” is a doomed effort, the alternatives for facing these issues are hard to agree upon. While people debate many of those incarcerated are facing an even deeper drug conflict within prison walls, and families and friends are isolated from their loved ones knowing that if they could provide help for their loved one they cannot. Your posts were informative and helpful. I thank you for sharing this information with the larger community to perhaps help take the first steps towards a better solution.
Ann B says
As someone who works in the field of corrections, I wish that more people would read this post. A lot of people don’t realize that 95% of the individuals who are incarcerated will be getting out at some point and if we don’t find a way to treat them while they are incarcerated when they return to their same neighborhood it’s highly likely that they will end up going down the same path they did before. I think that you also make a good point that why not make sure that to use their time in jail/prison wisely instead of just sitting in they cell.
I think that your idea of an online computer based program is an excellent idea! Not only would it help the offenders receive treatment but since it is a computer the department of corrections would only be shelling out a one time fee for the computers rather than having to bring someone in, because we all know it really comes down to money when discussing corrections and treatment. I think you also make a good point that since the program would be an online based program individuals may feel more comfortable disclosing information about their pasts that they don’t want to disclose to a human due to embarrassment or shame. I think you are really on to something here and it would help tremendously with the jail/prison population, as these folks usually don’t ever receive the treatment they need.
Thanks for the feedback! Hope we can get this done in the near future.
Curtis H says
As both a student in a drug education class and someone who was released from prison two years ago (and from Post-Prison Supervision exactly one day ago), I can see both the upsides and downsides to your suggestions. I appreciate that you put your personal time and effort working toward solutions to these problems–it says a lot. I do want to point a few things I’ve noticed from own experience, because I’ve personally observed some things that both uphold and refute the theory behind your plan.
First, while inmates generally have nothing but time, as you said, what they choose to do with it will have the greatest impact on their futures. Their potential to re-offend once released lies within themselves, not with any sort of treatment programs, religion, or educational offerings that may be available. I know plenty of other inmates with addictions or gang connections who consciously chose to change their lives, only using the treatment programs as a tool to do so. And many of them succeeded. I also know plenty of inmates with drug issues or gang connections who chose to “fake it to make it” in those same programs in order to prove to a counselor they were making strides toward rehabilitation. Ultimately, it has to come from within.
Second, I’ve found that risk assessment tools and other computerized assessment programs widely used by Oregon correctional systems utilize questions which are either too vague, non-essential, or produce cookie cutter scores which place people in categories that are taken far too seriously without getting a second look from a human. These scores are what are used in many cases to determine whether a parolee gets placed into low-level supervision or if they remain under full active parole. If the score doesn’t accurately reflect the true extent of the person’s behavior (and no computer model can always do this absolutely 100% accurately), then they may be subject to remaining under full supervision or at a higher risk level than necessary. This can effectively slow down their rehabilitation.
In my case, I had no issues with addiction, was attending PSU full-time, working full-time, living with my parents, checking in 2-3 times a week with clean urinalyses completed on that same time frame, successfully passing surprise home visits once a month or more, and paying all of my fees, restitution, and fines, while staying out of trouble and making an honest effort (and effort that has FINALLY paid off, I might add) to turn my life around from the chaotic whirlpool of my teenage years. I had been incarcerated for burglarizing numerous businesses around Portland when I was 18, and spent five years incarcerated for it. During that time, I earned my associates degree, completed numerous treatment programs willingly and voluntarily, and received my medical first responders license as well as numerous other certificates, training, and diplomas. I did well while locked up, and I did excellent while free. Nonetheless, I was classified as high risk, because I had numerous convictions from the same event. Multiple felonies, even from the same crime, had given me a higher score. I committed three felonies for every place that was broken into: burglary, for entering premises with intent to commit a crime; criminal mischief for breaking the window; and theft, for stealing. Each event amounted to three felonies. Multiple events, and the total goes up by a multiple of three. And there wasn’t a manual, human override, even if my parole officer wanted to do so, so I stayed on parole for the entire 24 month sentence. At the same time, guys I knew who had physically harmed someone in the process of committing their crime, or who were actively and to the knowledge of their parole officers still using some drugs or engaging in gang activity, were getting let off of parole early, sometimes after only one year! All because of a scoring system not regulated by humans.
Sorry for the life story, but I wanted to explain some of my thoughts on the matter. How would you work to overcome such barriers? And how would this be integrated into educational goals? I’d genuinely love to hear more on this subject, since I have a lot of experience with it on the receiving end and would like to see changes made to help more convicts rehabilitate themselves. Thanks again for your time, interest, and efforts!
I have to say, you definitely changed my perspective on the war on drugs. Before exploring the issues of the war on drugs, I agreed with the law in that if people do drugs, they deserved to go to jail. That was the naive thinking that I once had and I’m glad I have been exposed to other ideas that has made me become more open minded. I could not agree more with the fact that current prisoners who have addiction issues need to have more education and preparation for them to succeed to the real world. If they waste time being in jail for a problem that they themselves cannot fix, once they get out it will become a cycle where they will end up in prison again. What has been done has been done, but it can improve.
Thanks for the feedback!
Curtis, thanks so much for all your feedback and sharing your valuable life experience! Here are my thoughts:
1. While I agree that change for the better ultimately must come from within, we know from experience with Motivational Interviewing and other tools that it is possible to influence one’s internal world for the better. The program I am suggesting has a component (Create) that has little to do with traditional treatment, and instead focuses on helping people discover what it is they are supposed to do in this lifetime. There is no faking your true potential and purpose.
2. I agree that computerized assessment tools are overrated and have led to some incredible misuses and injustices in both the healthcare and criminal justice systems. At the same time, we don’t have enough man power to effectively assess all those behind bars. A systems evaluation tool would have to take into consideration your comments, and be used for the right reasons.
3. Development of a successful online system would have to go beyond what is currently available and incorporate elements of good design, story telling, and interventions that lead to those behind bars embracing it and sharing it with others. We have a long way to go to get this done.
Thanks again for sharing!
Bahar Tajdar says
I am impressed with Dr. John Fitzgerald thoughts and comments on what can be done for those who are currently behind bars. His idea on making use of their time in jail to prepare them to succeed in life once they are out is brilliant. With American having 7 million people behind bars and in correctional supervision, along with 70K juveniles awaiting prison in the future, it is important that we do not let the lives of these people go to waste. By supporting them while they are serving their time, we can help them grow as individuals and gain confidence. This will help them survive in society when they are out of prison. Dr. John Fitzgerald’s plan of developing a technology-based intervention system that individualizes behavioral health treatment and education would be a beneficial investment. I am in support of this idea and I am curious as to know how it will work out if implemented. As Dr. John Fitzgerald also mentioned, those in prison have nothing but time and it is important that this time is spent as wisely as can be.
Dylan M says
I agree with what you wrote for this blog. The criminal justice system is broken and not properly serving our society at large. The “War on Drugs” is really the starting point of the prison system numbers growing immensely. Presently, our society is putting criminals with drug related acts in prison for a ludicrously time. Often we were just putting these people either on probation or having them stay in jail for a short amount of time. Now they are being locked away for 10 years or more. Retributive justice has it’s place in society, but for less violent offenders and those acts that are not committed against a person restorative justice can used far more effectively.
Drug charges are serious, but when compared to taking someone’s life or other crimes of bodily harm they do not measure up to the same intensity. I think that a computerized system can be very beneficial, but we need to set a limit on what is going to be sorted by the computer. Talking with people is a great euphoric process that serves to unleash feelings of frustration and hopelessness. Having criminals be looked after by computers would not be beneficial to their to their psyche. With my mother being a social worker and a therapist and myself trying to go into social work I find human contact to be very helpful and beneficial to both parties.
Something that would be useful for myself and other social workers is a better education in drugs and the effects it has on the body and mind. Being apart of my drug education class has taught me that I have much to learn to better help the at-risk clients I see daily. There are times where I find it difficult to relate to them as I am a single child of a single mother who gave me the opportunity to have anything I could ask for. I have no history in drug abuse, criminal acts or anything similar, but I don’t see that as a downfall when trying to talk with my clients. I believe it can actually serve as a template of what my clients can try to strive for in terms of stability. Hope this is a decent post and I appreciated you coming to our class and presenting.
Dylan, thanks for the comment and feedback. While I fully agree that human contact is preferable, the reality is that there is not enough money to fund such efforts in the prison system (or perhaps I should say we as a society have not funded these efforts to date). I believe we are just scratching the surface for what is possible with technology and intervention, and that it is possible to build developmentally-based interventions online that will allow those who do treatment while behind bars, upon release, to reenter the world developmentally closer to their chronological age and thus have better outcomes overall in life.
Glad you are in the field, we need thoughtful minds such as yourself to move the field forward.
Michelle Turpin says
I agree with you 100% about this topic. Behind bars, all the inmates have is time on their hands. We as a society need to use that time to help them overcome their inner demons and battles that ended them up in prison. The number of inmates we have is so large, I think it would mean a complete overhaul of the system. The only way we could make this happen would be to do a trial program in a few different facilities and follow inmates as they are released to see if the programs with education and life skills prevented them from re-offending.
I just don’t understand how we expect a change in the increasing number of people entering jails and prisons if we don’t do something to reverse it. Prole and probation programs are not enough to fight the battle, we must start in prison for the inmates to have the tools needed.
The prison system is feeling the war on drugs. We punish and imprison for drugs all to often. I think we need to be pushing for more addiction and treatment for the people at risk for drug use at an early age. We all know the longer we wait to educate, the harder it becomes. We need strong resources for people in the drug world and battling addictions themselves. I know from having a sibling addicted to heroin that is it a very hard and long battle. Without the needed help, the addicted person will just keep relapsing and never get to live a life without the drug.
John Fitzgerald says
Yes, we need to do more and I am presently working on building tools that could be used by those behind bars. We know there is not enough money to pay for human counselors, so if we are to make a difference in the future, we must leverage technology. Thanks for the comment.
J Swaner says
it is true that we should be embarassed about how many americans are behind bars. And shocked about how many re offend. Society sees the need to correct this, but the corrections system is not motivated by the same things. It is impossible to resolve these issues without doing more to prepare inmates to be released, but implementing new programs in the prison systems would be met with much oposition.
Another problem I can think of, and maybe a bigger problem is the amount of drugs in prison. In the prison culture drugs is more than a way to get high. For example, drugs are a form of currency, used to buy everything from food to tattoos. It would be a significant challenge to convince more than a handful of inmates to pickup this tool, and the ones that would are likely to be the the few that would not have re offended regardless.
That being said, a program that could transition to the outside with an inmate would be ideal. Timing is critical, and inmates need to take the time inside to learn how to address the behaviours that got them there. Tracking progress is also important, to see where you have been, and to show the progress you have made -a way to show that behaviour matters.
If this could be accomplished with a technology based intervention system then that option needs to be explored. Then maybe the corrections sytem could live up to its name, as a productive component of society.
John Fitzgerald says
No question intervening in the prisons using technology has its challenges, but I am not sure there are any better answers. If we can reduce the cost of resolving trauma, closing developmental gaps, increasing academic and real-world skills, and help inmates learn about addiction and what they need to do to overcome their behavioral challenges, then perhaps we can make a dent in the prison population. That said, I also believe use of technology should be paired with teaching mindfulness meditation and other contemplative practices, which may be even more important than what they might learn online. Thanks for the comments.
Lisa S. says
Treatment in our prison systems are just not enough, I have personally have been affected by several people who I was close too, who entered our prisons systems because of the addiction they had to meth, and after completeing their sentence, two of them were using. One of them, my brother is back in prison serving another two years, A good friend of mine, is currently on the run because of his relapsed after being out only a year from Federal Prison, after doing 6 years, the other one is my childrens father, who served 8 years, and as soon as he was released he entered into a out patient treatment facility. This is the first time he has completed a drug treatment, after trying 6 times before. I think his probation officer, had alot to do with it, she is very dedicated to her job, and made sure he got into a treatment program, before he did anything else. All three have told me the drug treatment in prison is just not enough. My brother and my good friend, told me they needed a class, that helped them to learn to cope with stress, personal feeling’s and learning how to live a drug free life, which both didnt know how too. I think as a society, we also need to treat those who exit our prisons systems, as anyone else, and not a offender, because the whole jail system is suppose to reform the offender to a non offender, yet as a society we still treat them as one. If we all worked together and gave each person a chance and dropped the whole” Have you ever been convicted off a felony on a job application, I think many men and women, who have a better chance of living a clean and sober life, and would be able to believe more in themselves that they wont have this label of being a criminal anymore.
I also think you bring up a good point that timing is everything, but those who serve a longer sentence, need help at the start and ending of thier prisons sentence. As I have learned no matter how much clean time someone has, addiction is still there.
We also need to remember that addition and those who are in prison have families and because of this can have a huge impact on the children. I live in washington, and has my kids father was his time, I found a great group that helps support famlies with the struggles of having someone in carcerated. I just want to share this with you, so if you have a resource page to help those who live in this area get the support they need. if you have time please take a look. Thanks
John Fitzgerald says
Lisa, I could not agree more with your comments and so appreciate the link to the support group for families.
Jennifer V. says
If addicts are sentenced to prison time, it is almost imperative for the system to help them while they are inside so they don’t come back after being released. For one, I don’t think we should place addicts in prison. I am all in favor of bringing back some sort of rehabilitation programs instead of using prison as a deterrence. I think almost all of us would agree there are problems with drugs on the inside of prisons. So, we know that prison doesn’t work for addicts. Rehabilitation programs would focus on the individual need and have a better chance for success than locking someone up. I like how Dr. Fitzgerald suggested using a technology-based intervention system since the cost is high for humans. Even though it would be ideal to have real human interactions during rehabilitation, sometimes this isn’t possible and we shouldn’t discount every scenario. Different things work for different people. We should be open to try new things.
I think the bottom line is education within society as well. We need to get more people to understand and realize the effects that addiction has on the entire community. If we can motivate people to get involved and help, that’s where the real change starts.
Tembre DeLong says
Hello Dr. Fitzgerald,
You make some very good suggestion about ways in which we, as a society, can help prepare people in jail for the real world upon their release. I also agree with you that something needs to be done if we want to see a decline in our future recidivism rates. I understand your concern about hiring people to do the job you are suggesting a computer can do but isn’t there something to be said about human interaction that can be beneficial for inmates? We live in a world that is dominated by technology so I see where you think it would only be fitting that a computer can do the job better, but what about people’s concerns with regards to teens and their electronics? Some adults are concerned that technology is driving a wedge between teens and the real world. They fear that they will lack the ability to converse with others and be socially involved. Do these same concerns not apply to inmates? Although the turnover rates may be high in this field of practice I believe human interaction would far outweigh the benefit of a reliable computer program. Maybe the focus should be turned towards ways to reduce the turnover rate. Just a thought.
John Fitzgerald says
Tembre, I have never said human interaction is not important, and if we could afford to counsel inmates with humans I would be all for it! But the sad truth is there is no money to pay for counseling for most behind bars, so my technological solutions are merely a best attempt to improve an already hopeless (for many) situation – and to reduce recidivism as well.
Brenna B says
Wow– reading this article has really opened my eyes. I knew that we had a high incarceration rate but I didn’t think it was the highest of any country in the world. However, this does makes sense and I do believe it is because of the mandatory sentencing laws. I personally think that they need to eliminate most of those laws because we need to make room for legitimate criminals. Our prisons are overcrowded as it is, and with the number of drug related arrests only increasing, we will not be able to house the criminals that need the most help (i.e. murderers, child molesters).