The BOP operates three drug abuse programs. The first program is the 12- to 15-hour voluntary Drug Abuse Education Course offered at all institutions, designed to teach inmates about the consequences of drug/alcohol abuse and addiction by reviewing their personal drug use and the cycle of drug use and crime. The second program is the 12- to 24-week (90–120 minutes per week) Non-Residential Drug Abuse Treatment Program (NRDAP), which is targeted to, inter alia, those awaiting RDAP, those who do not meet RDAP admission criteria, and those found guilty of an incident report for use of drugs or alcohol. In addition to paying NRDAP graduates $30, BOP policy encourages wardens to consider them for maximum pre-release (halfway house and/ or home confinement) placement, although this provision goes largely ignored. The third program is the nine-plus-month, 500-hour Residential Drug Abuse Treatment Program (RDAP) for inmates with a diagnosable and verifiable substance abuse disorder, which is what we’ll focus on here.
RDAP has been in existence since 1989 and employs cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat substance abuse. The “in-patient” component is followed by an aftercare component, which is administered in the community during the final six months of an inmate’s sentence. Male inmates who successfully complete RDAP are 16 percent less likely to be rearrested or revoked than cohorts who went untreated, and 15 percent less likely to use drugs. Female graduates are 18 percent less likely to reoffend or use drugs. I have to admit, any statistics coming from the BOP are inherently suspect, however, anecdotally, I did see it help numerous people who went through the program.
Admission to RDAP
RDAP participation is voluntary and an applicant’s chemical dependency need not be linked to his or her offense conduct, nor is a judicial recommendation necessary, in order to qualify. In fact, many defendants ask for such a recommendation by the judge, not realizing that it’s totally useless.
Prisoners may apply at any time, although the program statement indicates you need to be within 36 months of release. The process itself is pretty simple. Make a request for eligibility to interview via a “cop-out” to the Psychology Department, which is in charge fo the program. The next step is the actual interview with either the prison’s RDAP coordinator or a drug treatment specialist (DTS), or, if a prisoner is housed at a facility that does not offer the RDAP, a member of the psychology services staff. To qualify for RDAP, you must technically have at least 24 months or more remaining to serve (although I’ve seen people with 21 months left to go get into the program); present a verifiable, documented pattern of substance abuse or dependence within the 12-month period preceding arrest on the underlying offense; have no serious mental or cognitive impairment precluding full program participation; be halfway house eligible (which precludes participation by removable non-US citizens); and sign an acknowledgment of program responsibilities.
The provisions governing RDAP are otherwise silent with respect to how determinations are made about whether a prisoner has “a substance abuse problem,” which leaves a lot of wiggle room. Basically, it needs to be in your Pre-Sentencing Report (PSR), which is mostly comprised on an interview that you give. So, if you tell the Probation Officer during the interview for the PSR that you have an illicit drug problem, abuse prescription drugs or are an alcoholic, which existed before coming to prison, then you’re pretty much assured eligibility for the program. The crazy part about this is that, if you are unfortunate enough to have a long sentence, then it’s irrelevant that you’ve been sober for that long period of time (say, five years), you still qualify. Interestingly enough, if you were not aware to include that information in your PSR, you can still be eligible if you have past DUI’s on your record or if you get a Shot while in prison for drinking or doing drugs.
The BOP would have you believe that RDAP eligibility interviews entail difficult questions designed to determine whether admission is sought in good faith to obtain treatment or simply to secure a quicker return home. In reality, it’s a program run by career professionals who are intent on self-preservation. While they cannot admit someone who does not have a history of use in their PSR they’re also not looking to ding anyone who does. Now, to be fair, I had an amazing DTS and the Doctor running the program while I was in it was incredible. However, she left shortly thereafter and the program went downhill in a big way as several inept RDAP Coordinators rotated through until the prison found someone competent (quite by accident, in my opinion).
The Program Statement directs that otherwise eligible prisoners must “ordinarily” be within 24 months of release to qualify for admittance to RDAP. However, it really all depends on whether there are openings available. I, and several other people I knew, went through the program early, in the hopes of having the year credit it under our belts should some other miracle arise. And, for some it did, with Covid Compassionate Release applications. Some wardens were willing to count the RDAP reduction toward whether an inmate had served 50% of his sentence.
Ineligibility for RDAP
The following categories of inmates are not eligible for the RDAP program:
1. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees; 2. pretrial inmates; 3. contractual boarders (for example, state or military inmates); and 4. inmates with detainers that preclude halfway house placement.
The Sentence Reduction
If you qualify for RDAP and complete the course, and up to one year of a probationary period with “follow-up” course work while in prison, and then a TDAT Program once you’re in Halfway House and Home Confinement, then you can expect the following.
On a sentence of 24 to 30 months, a 6-month reduction.
On a sentence of 31-36 months, a 9-month reduction
On a sentence of 37 months or greater, a 12-month reduction
These programs are supported and condoned but not organized or run by the prison. At a Low security prison or higher, meetings are typically run by a volunteer from the outside who comes in once a week, supervised by an officer in an adjoining room. At Miami Low, AA and NA meetings were one and the same and organized by inmates once a week in both Spanish and English. The AA/NA meetings are supposed to be just as confidential as they would be otherwise but, nonetheless, please be smart enough not to say anything that might get you in trouble. Remember, snitches are everywhere. That said, it’s much easier to find your inner honesty in AA/NA than in RDAP, which is supervised full time by staff who don’t want honesty, only blind submission. At Miami Low, meetings were sometimes cancelled at the last minute because a volunteer didn’t show or there was no CO available to babysit. At the Camp we had no such problems and I found it to be incredible therapy in addition to inspiration for helping me stick to the steps.