Correctional officers and prison administrative staff in New Jersey are going to the classroom to achieve a better understanding of how substance use disorders manifest in inmates.
The entity offering the three-day “Introduction to Substance Use Disorders and Behaviors” training sees the effort as a partnership on behalf of better services for inmates, a joint effort between the individuals who best understand the workings of the prison system and those who best grasp the clinical needs of individuals with substance use disorders.
“We look at this as, 'How can we take your experiences and ours and have a conversation?'” Stephanie Marcello, program director at Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care, tells Addiction Professional. “This is new for us too.”
Discussions between Rutgers and the state Department of Corrections identified a need to provide corrections staff with more education around addiction as a disease, says Marcello. With the high prevalence of substance use disorders in the state inmate population, “This is part of the department's plan to educate the people who spend the most time with inmates,” she says. This will help establish a stronger professional identity among corrections officers as well, she says.
The required training takes place over three full days, with two speakers per day and interactive work as well as lectures. Marcello says officers and other staff in the prison system learn about the behaviors associated with specific drugs of abuse, coming to a better understanding of common withdrawal symptoms.
Another key goal of the department involves helping prison staff to understand the benefits of maintenance medications for opioid-dependent inmates, so that officers look at this as positive “rather than seeing it as 'still using,'” says Marcello.
Education around inmate trauma and adverse childhood experiences also is an important component of the training, Marcello says, but trauma takes on a personal meaning in the classroom as well.
“We bring it back to the threats to the staff's own wellness,” she says, as working with this population can exacerbate the risk of secondary trauma and substance use problems.
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