Senators Release GAO Report Revealing Shortfalls In Bureau Of Prisons Drug Treatment Programs, Recommendations For Improved Management And Increased Access To Treatment

Following a request submitted by U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Ed Markey (D-MA), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report revealing shortfalls in the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) drug treatment programs and recommendations for ways BOP can better manage and expand drug treatment programs offered to incarcerated individuals.

As of April 2018, nearly half of the federal prison population was incarcerated on a drug-related offense, with the BOP estimating that 40 percent of inmates entered the federal prison system with a substance use disorder. The Senators initially requested this report in May 2018, asking GAO to look into how the BOP provides access to drug education and treatment programs for incarcerated individuals with substance use disorders in BOP facilities, and what barriers exist to enrolling all individuals who seek support.

The full GAO report can be read here.

 “We know the toll addiction has taken on our communities and that recovery can be particularly challenging for those who are incarcerated,” said Senator Brown. “While I’m glad BOP has taken initial steps to implement addiction treatment within their facilities, this report reveals that a full assessment of BOP’s treatment programs is needed to improve effectiveness, and Congress must ensure BOP has the resources necessary to expand treatment options to all individuals seeking support.”

“Alaska continues to see high incidences of heroin and opioid abuse. It is incredibly important to provide individuals in the criminal justice system who struggle with substance abuse disorders with the behavioral health resources they need to successfully integrate themselves back into society without recidivism,” said Senator Murkowski. “This new GAO report highlights key areas of improvement for the Bureau of Prisons to evaluate and manage their drug education and treatment programs. I commissioned this report with a bipartisan group of Senators with the hope that this report would give us the information we need to take the necessary steps to assist those transitioning from the criminal justice system back into society.”

“In writing the first comprehensive law to fight the opioid crisis, I learned that tackling addiction in the prison system benefits inmates and the communities where former inmates live.  That’s why states like Rhode Island have seen promising results from adopting addiction treatment programs in their systems,” said Senator Whitehouse. “This report reveals that the Bureau of Prisons needs better treatment infrastructure and planning to get those seeking treatment on the road to recovery.”

“A staggeringly high percentage of individuals who are incarcerated are living with a substance use disorder. Any individual who needs or wants treatment should have access to it,” said Senator Bennet. “This GAO report is a good first step toward ensuring incarcerated Americans battling addiction receive the support they need, and it lays out the work the Bureau of Prisons needs to do to build out its drug treatment programs. We’ll continue to support these efforts in Congress to make sure the BOP has the funds necessary to successfully implement and expand its treatment programs.”  

“Addiction to dangerous substances like opioids has ruined too many lives and devastated too many communities in Colorado,” said Senator Gardner. “Access to treatment can be particularly difficult for incarcerated individuals, which then plays a role in both health and future cycles of incarceration. This report shows that while we are taking the right steps, much more must be done to increase access to treatment for incarcerated people.”

“The need for medication assisted treatment in our jails and prisons is clear. State and local correctional officials have lead the charge in implementing these programs across the country while the federal government has lagged behind. This report makes clear that the Bureau of Prisons is not doing nearly enough to expand medication assisted treatment programs. We must keep up the pressure to force the Trump administration to expand access to this essential treatment,” said Senator Markey. 

 “Our criminal justice system criminalizes too much and rehabilitates too little – we need to reform every single part of the system,” said Senator Warren. “As this report makes clear, the Bureau of Prisons must do more to improve and expand access to its drug treatment programs so that every incarcerated individual can get the treatment they need.”

In fiscal year 2019, the Bureau began treating inmates with opioid use disorder via a new medication-assisted treatment program (MAT). The Bureau is expanding this program, but hasn’t documented how it will gauge the additional agency personnel needed, how it plans to recruit and onboard them, or when the expansion will be completed. The GAO report recommends improved planning to help BOP evaluate and manage its portfolio of drug education and treatment programs.