March 26, 2021

Cornyn, Whitehouse Introduce Bill to Fight Substance Use in Jails & Prisons, Support Inmates upon Release

Residential Substance Use Disorder Treatment Act continues senators’ bipartisan success on corrections reform

Washington, DC – Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced today the bipartisan Residential Substance Use Disorder Treatment Act of 2021. The bill would expand access to important substance use treatments in jails and prisons around the country, and help those exiting correctional facilities continue their treatment in the community. The senators’ new bill follows their success in passing into law important federal corrections reforms in 2018.

“We know people fighting substance use problems have a much harder time staying out of trouble than those who find help and stay clean, and we know medication-assisted treatment is a safe and effective way to fight substance use. This legislation builds on the good work of states like Rhode Island that are using these treatments wisely and saving lives in their communities,” said Senator Whitehouse. “I’m happy to continue working with Senator Cornyn to pass proven, smart, bipartisan solutions to address the biggest problems in our corrections systems.”

“It’s imperative we divert incarcerated individuals with substance abuse problems to treatment and recovery programs so they can build better lives and earn second chances,” said Senator Cornyn. “I’m proud to support this bill with Sen. Whitehouse and will continue working to bring smart reforms to our jails and prisons around the country.”

Joining Whitehouse and Cornyn on the legislation as original cosponsors are Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), James Lankford (R-OK), and Tim Scott (R-SC).

The bill continues Whitehouse and Cornyn’s bipartisan success on prison reform and reentry legislation in the Senate. The senators authored the sections of the 2018 First Step Act law that help low-risk individuals earn credit toward their release through programs proven to reduce the risk of reoffending.

Whitehouse and Cornyn’s new bill improves the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) for State Prisoners Program, which aims to break the cycle of substance use disorder for those in state, local, and tribal correctional facilities. The program provides residential substance abuse treatment for people in jails and prisons; prepares them for reintegration into their community by incorporating reentry planning activities into treatment programs; and assists individuals and their communities through the reentry process by delivering community-based treatment and other services.

The senators’ bill would update RSAT to:

  • Expand options for treating substance use disorders by explicitly allowing programs to adopt and use approved medication-assisted treatment;
  • Require program staff to be trained on the science of addiction, strategies for continuity of care during and after incarceration, and evidence-based behavioral therapies used to treat substance use disorder;
  • Ensure that programs are affiliated with providers who can administer medications for addiction treatment after incarceration, ensuring continuity of care and reducing the risk of relapse and overdose; and
  • Allow grantees to use RSAT funds to offer treatment to individuals during short periods of incarceration.

The Residential Substance Use Disorder Treatment Act is supported by: National Criminal Justice Association, National Association of Social Workers, Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), Major County Sheriffs of America, National Police Foundation, National Association for Behavioral Healthcare, The National Council for Behavioral Health, Dismas Charities Inc., Center for Court Innovation, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Westcare Foundation International, Community Corrections Association, Correctional Leaders Association, American Psychological Association, National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, and National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

Read the groups’ letter here.

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