The Alaska Department of Corrections: The Drug Treatment Picture

The Alaska Department of Corrections: The Drug Treatment Picture

Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. (Spring 2000). "The Alaska Department of Corrections: The Drug Treatment Picture." Alaska Justice Forum 17(1): 5-6. The Alaska Department of Corrections does not at present test inmates for drug or alcohol problems at the time they begin serving their sentences, so there are no firm figures available on the extent of the drug problem among the inmate population. Available treatment programs are always full; more inmates request treatment than there are spaces available. This article describes substance abuse programs within DOC facilities and the privately-operated Central Arizona Detention Center, where nearly 900 Alaska inmates are housed.

Although some plans for general screening of inmates for drug and alcohol problems are now being considered, the Alaska Department of Corrections at present does not test inmates for drug or alcohol problems at the time they begin serving their sentences. As a result, no firm numbers are available on the extent of the drug problem among the inmate population. DOC does state that the available treatment programs are always full, with those ordered by the courts into treatment receiving priority for available spaces and others being treated on a voluntary, first-come, first-served basis. More inmates request treatment than there are spaces available. (Table 1 provides national data on the extent of prior drug use among prisoners.)

Table 1. Level of Prior Drug Use by State and Federal Prisoners by Type and Drug and Frequency of Use, 1991 and 1997

The annual budget for DOC substance abuse programs is just under one million dollars. It has not increased in eight years. The department contracts with state-approved substance abuse treatment providers in the community for all of its programs. The department itself has only one regular position in this area, the Substance Abuse Program Coordinator, who administers the DOC programs. Because funding available for the programs has not increased, the number of treatment providers willing to contract with DOC is declining.

The department offers an inmate substance abuse program in each facility, but those at the Ketchikan, Palmer, Yukon-Kuskokwim, and Anvil Mountain Correctional Centers are educational programs only. At Sixth Avenue and Mat-Su Pretrial, orientation programs are offered. At Cook Inlet Pre-Trial and Fairbanks Correction Center education programs with an introduction to treatment component are available. At Lemon Creek, Meadow Creek, Spring Creek, and Wildwood Correctional Centers and at the Point MacKenzie Rehabilitation Center, the programs offer a level of treatment comparable to that labeled as "outpatient treatment" in the general community. The only intensive residential treatment program is one for women at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center. Another intensive residential program, for men, which will be located at Wildwood, is in the planning stages. These intensive residential treatment programs are being primarily funded by federal monies, with some state matching funds required. (Federal funds are currently available only for residential programs.)

According to DOC figures, during FY 1999, 1583 inmates were admitted to the programs comprising the substance abuse educational component and 306 to the outpatient-level programs. Since the residential treatment program for women opened at Hiland Mountain, 94 inmates have been admitted. The Central Arizona Detention Center, the private correctional facility owned by Corrections Corporation of America in Florence, Arizona, which contracts with DOC, also offers a substance abuse day treatment program.

This Arizona facility, with close to 900 Alaska inmates, is, in effect, the state's largest institution. The rise in the number of inmates being sent to Arizona has an effect on the drug treatment situation within other Alaska facilities. The shifts among inmate populations which occur as an administrative consequence of the use of the out-of-state prison can undermine the establishment of stable treatment program environments.

In addition to providing the treatment programs under contract, DOC also facilitates the formation of twelve-step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous in its facilities.