August 3, 2021

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

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

Washington, DC – The Senate has passed the bipartisan Residential Substance Use Disorder Treatment Act of 2021 by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and John Cornyn (R-TX). The bill will expand access to substance use treatment in jails and prisons around the country, and help those exiting correctional facilities continue their treatment in the community. The bill’s passage follows Whitehouse and Cornyn’s success in passing federal corrections reforms in 2018.

“Senator Cornyn and I are making real progress on the problems facing our prison systems. This bill builds on successful efforts in states like Rhode Island to expand medication-assisted treatment to help people recover and stay out of trouble after serving time. It also continues our work passing proven, bipartisan solutions on corrections issues,” said Senator Whitehouse.

“It’s imperative we divert incarcerated individuals with substance use disorders to treatment and recovery programs so they can build better lives and earn second chances,” said Senator Cornyn. “I’m grateful to my colleagues in the Senate for advancing this bill and will continue working to bring smart reforms to our jails and prisons around the country.”

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) joined Whitehouse and Cornyn as original cosponsors in introducing the legislation.

Whitehouse and Cornyn’s 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 funds programs that provide residential substance abuse treatment for people in jails and prisons; prepare them for reintegration into their community by incorporating reentry planning activities into treatment programs; and assist individuals and their communities through the reentry process by delivering community-based treatment and other services.

The 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;

• Mandate 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.

The bill, passed in the Senate late last week, 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, including substance use treatment.

Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921