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In New Jersey Prisons, New Training Fights Inmate Substance Use Disorders

Rutgers trains correction officers to better understand substance use disorder as a treatable disease

Rutgers University is joining New Jersey’s prison system to address an often-overlooked contributor to the cycle of crime, poverty and health concerns among the state’s marginalized communities: The prevalence of drug and alcohol addiction among the state’s nearly 20,000 incarcerated adults.

This year, Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care (UBHC) has stepped in to provide Introduction to Substance Use Disorders and Behaviors, a new training program for prison staff, such as correction officers, who are not directly involved in substance use disorder treatment but who interact intensively with the participating inmates.

The program provides nearly 900 correction officers and management staff with new skills and information needed to encourage inmates’ successful engagement with substance use disorder treatment.

“People are still not convinced that addiction disorder is a disease for which there is a treatment,” Herbert Kaldany, Department of Corrections statewide psychiatry director, said. “Resetting this view will go a long way toward reducing the stigma around seeking help, and improving inmates’ engagement with treatment during and after incarceration.”

Stephanie Marcello, UBHC program director, said, “The program uses fact-based knowledge and skills to dismantle the myths surrounding substance use disorders. Officers learn how stigma and discrimination impact behavior, which will help them better engage with and respond to inmates who have these disorders. They also will receive practical skills, such as how to tell if someone is in withdrawal or using a substance.”

The program provides socio-cultural, psychological and neurological perspectives on substance use disorders.  It also provides self-care and stress management techniques that attendees can use in their own lives. Studies have shown that correction officers are at heightened risk for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, which can lead to substance use.

“Although this program is based in New Jersey’s two ‘treatment prisons,’ we are encouraging DOC employees from around the state attend as well,” said Kaldany. “This is a unique opportunity for them to educate themselves about addiction so that they can apply what they’ve learned with people they know with this disorder — colleagues, family, friends and even themselves.”

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