Social Support among Offenders with Substance Abuse Problems: Overlooked and Underused? (Articles)

By Lemieux, Catherine M. | Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling, October 2002 | Go to article overview

Social Support among Offenders with Substance Abuse Problems: Overlooked and Underused? (Articles)


Lemieux, Catherine M., Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling


The author examined correlates of social support among 101 offenders in corrections-based treatment programs. Respondents perceived high levels of support despite numerous interpersonal problems. Social support was significantly associated with visits, letters, arrests, and days in treatment (p < .05). The author describes strategies for implementing family-oriented interventions in corrections-based programs.

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In this study, I examine social support among male and female inmates in institution-based substance abuse treatment programs. Although the correctional population is saturated with persons who abuse drugs and alcohol, investigations examining inmates' community ties and social support have not considered the negative interpersonal consequences of substance abuse. In addition to other biopsychosocial problems, the interpersonal relationships of many offenders who have substance abuse problems have been severely strained as a result of the behaviors associated with chronic alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana use (Mumola, 1999). The literature suggests that inmates with substance abuse problems have alienated their loved ones and are subsequently isolated from everyone except fellow addicts and criminals. This is an untested belief. In fact, research with inmates who are involved with illegal drugs primarily focuses on program outcomes and recidivism, not on their interpersonal relationships and support networks. This gap in the literature persists despite the fact that family and community ties have long been regarded as potential rehabilitative tools for inmates (Hairston, 1997). The purpose of this study, therefore, is to explore an overlooked area in which two critical correctional issues intersect: social support and offenders in substance abuse treatment.

Literature Review

Mumola (1999) estimated that among state prisoners with a history of substance abuse (N = 729,578), approximately one third were enrolled in some type of drug treatment program in 1997 (n = 232,006; 31.8%). This relatively recent trend toward prison-based efforts to facilitate the offender's postrelease success was spawned, in part, by the documented deleterious consequences of crack cocaine addiction. Substance abuse services have proliferated in correctional facilities since the 1980s. These services include assessment (Brown, 1992); fellowship support groups, drug education, and group counseling (Messmer & Brown, 1991); methadone maintenance (Joseph, Perez, Tardalo, & Watts, 1989); unit-based group counseling and education (Hooper & Wald, 1990); and therapeutic communities (Pan, Scarpitti, Inciardi, & Lockwood, 1993).

Long-term and large-scale evaluations of therapeutic community programs have consistently demonstrated positive client outcomes and considerable cost savings (Lipton, Falkin, & Wexler, 1992; Peters, Kearns, Murrin, Dolente, & May, 1993). According to Nielsen and Scarpitti (1997), the sense of community and strict behavioral guidelines are the two most influential elements of therapeutic community treatment. Therapeutic communities use the community of peers to teach, model, and reinforce the values and behaviors that are necessary for a drug-free lifestyle. Frankel (1989) believed that the therapeutic community serves as a substitute family for its members. The community provides a supportive and caring environment that facilitates client acceptance, understanding, and change.

The length of time in treatment significantly influences outcomes (Lipton et al., 1992); thus, recent therapeutic community evaluations emphasize the additional benefits of aftercare. Amity prison's therapeutic community and aftercare program in California reduced recidivism by more than 50% among offenders who had been released 24 months (Wexler, DeLeon, Thomas, Kressel, & Peters, 1999). Offenders who received multistage therapeutic community treatment in the Delaware-based Key-Crest programs demonstrated significantly lower rates of relapse and recidivism than did offenders who participated in a prison-based therapeutic community only (Inciardi, Martin, Butzin, Hooper, & Harrison, 1997). …

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