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Exploring How Prison-Based Drug Rehabilitation Programming Shapes Racial Disparities in Substance Use Disorder Recovery

NCJ Number
Social Science & Medicine Volume: 199 Dated: February 2018 Pages: 140-147
Erin M. Kerrison
Date Published
February 2018
8 pages
This article reports on research that examined the interview narratives of 300 former prisoners who participated in a minimum of 12 months of prison-based therapeutic community (TC) programming, and they described how programming rhetoric impacted their substance abuse treatment experiences.

Prison-based therapeutic community (TC) programming is derived from the perspective that drug addiction is primarily symptomatic of cognitive dysfunction, poor emotional management, and underdeveloped self-reliance skills, and can be addressed in a collaborative space where a strong ideological commitment to moral reform and personal responsibility is required of its members. In this space, evidence of rehabilitation is largely centered on the client's relationship to language and the public adoption of a "broken self" narrative. Failure to master these linguistic performances can result in the denial of material and symbolic resources, thus participants learn how to use TC language to present themselves in ways that support existing institutionalized hierarchies, even if that surrender spells their self-denigration. Although many of the respondents in the current study described distressing experiences as TC participants, White respondents were more likely to eventually embrace the "addict" label and speak of privileges and reintegrative support subsequently received. Black respondents were more likely to defy the treatment rhetoric, and either fail to complete the program or simulate a deficit-based self-narrative without investing in the content of those stories. The study explored the significance of language and identity construction in these carceral spaces, and how treatment providers, as well as agency agendas, are implicated in the reproduction of racial disparities in substance abuse recovery. (publisher abstract modified)