Bennet, Gardner Call for Assessment of Drug Treatment Availability and Effectiveness in Correctional Facilities

Washington, D.C. – Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D) and Cory Gardner (R), with six other bipartisan senators, this week requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examine how the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and state correctional facilities address substance use disorder, and particularly opioid use disorder.

“Given the share of the prison population whose lives have been affected by drugs, the importance of effective treatment to help ensure a drug-free transition back to the community upon sentence completion, and the scope of resources BOP already dedicates to related programing, it is important to understand what treatment is offered in correctional facilities, who can access it, what is being measured, and what can be learned from selected states who are also grappling with the effects of addiction on their streets and in their correctional facilities,” the senators wrote.

BOP estimates that about 40 percent of inmates enter the federal prison system with a substance use disorder, and almost half of the federal prison population is incarcerated on a drug-related offense. Despite this prevalence of substance use and drug-related offenses, it has been reported that the BOP lacks the program capacity for all inmates that are eligible and interested in residential treatment, nor do federal facilities routinely administer any of the Food and Drug Administration-approved medication-assisted, evidence-based treatments such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone. Similarly, states – which continue to grapple with the public health impact of the opioid crisis – have larger proportions of inmates incarcerated for drug offenses in their correctional systems relative to other offenses.

In their letter, the senators ask the GAO to answer questions about the scope, nature, and requirements for inmate eligibility for BOP’s drug treatment programs and services; how much funding has BOP obligated to drug treatment programs over the last five years; and what has the BOP found in assessments of its drug treatment programs in terms of outcomes and cost-effectiveness. The senators are also interested in understanding how some states are incorporating evidence-based drug treatment approaches and community partnerships for reentry planning in their facilities, and ask GAO to help identify best-practices the BOP may be able to adopt at the federal level.  

The other signatories include U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Rand Paul (R-KY).

A copy of the letter is available HERE.