Addiction and Boot Camp Prison

Mar 14, 2017

Credit Minnesota Department of Corrections

Recovery from severe drug addiction often requires a lot of time, a lot of effort and separation from drug using friends. Sometimes prison is the only place that offers those three things. Meg Luther Lindholm has more in this Journeys Through Justice report.

Meg: Drug addiction can be tenacious and very hard to overcome. Severe addicts often need long-term, residential treatment away from people who might tempt them back into using. But this kind of long term treatment is very expensive. Its beyond what many users can afford to pay. So Sometimes prison becomes the default option. In fact 70 percent of judges in North Dakota have admitted to sentencing addicts to prison in order to get the long term treatment they need. But prison is also expensive. And when offenders are released its often very difficult to find jobs and housing.

LB: I think that we have to build alternatives for people who are really being sent to prison and jail because of addiction issues.

Meg: that’s LeAnn Bertsch – the head of North Dakota’s department of corrections and rehabilitation. She says there’s a need for more programs that offer intensive drug treatment for people like Jenenne Guffey. Jenenne was in the grip of meth addiction for years. Her addiction led to her arrest, then jail and finally to prison in Minnesota. She says prison shouldn’t be the place to go for drug treatment. But this was a different kind of treatment program. One that could be a model for helping people kick their addictions outside of prison. And, in her case it worked.

Sound   women chanting..

JG: The program is called Challenge Incarceration.

Meg: The Challenge Incarceration program is run by the Minnesota Department of corrections.. Its got the feel of military boot camp. Disciplione and obedience to rules are rigorously enforced. Behavior is shaped by the demands of the commanding officers -  like marching in unison and standing at attention.

Women’s IC officer: they call that military bearing that regimented discipline to carry yourself, bear yourself. (women yell out).

Meg: Besides the military discipline, the program also has the flavor of outward bound. The men’s and women’s camps are in separate parts of the state. But everyone lives in barracks out in the woods. For Jenenne, Living in nature was an important part of her recovery.

JG: we had the opportunity to hike and fish and do chemical dependency treatment.

Meg: There’s art therapy, occupational therapy, and behavioral therapy. There’s preparation for life and work after prison. And inmates do 6 months of community service as part of their sentence. The program challenges both the body and the mind.

JG: The biological, the psychological…each need attention. We are holistic people

Meg: And she said that despite their harsh approach, the staff understands the ravages of addiction and the time that it takes to rebuild one’s life.

JG: When somebody has been hard on their body and using drugs or drinking and not eating the right nutrition and not getting the right sleep and they're deprived and their brain isn't working right and their organs aren't working right.

And so sometimes I think that that's why the justice system. It gives people. For me it gave me a chance to heal.

Meg: Jenenne credits Challenge Incarceration with her recovery. But she says people shouldn’t have to go to prison for drug treatment.  Her goal now is to help people get into treatment before they wind up in prison.

Sound up on women chanting

Journeys Through Justice is funded in part by a grant from the ND Humanities council. For Prairie Public, I’m Meg Luther Lindholm.