Sen. Linda Sanborn introduces bill to establish substance use treatment programs in correctional facilities

Posted: April 19, 2019 | Criminal Justice and Public Safety, Senator Linda Sanborn

AUGUSTA — A bill introduced by Sen. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham, would establish substance use disorder treatment programs in Maine’s correctional facilities. LD 1096 “An Act To Require That Comprehensive Substance Use Disorder Treatment Be Made Available to Maine’s Incarcerated Population” received a public hearing before the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Friday.

“By all objectives, having substance use disorder treatment programs in our criminal justice system is a smart, moral and fiscally responsible thing to do,” said Sen. Sanborn. “By including the correctional system as another access point for treatment, Maine would see an increase in access to and retention in treatment, reduced use of the justice system by individuals with opioid use disorder, reduced recidivism, reduced overdose deaths on re-entry to the community, and options to move funds from punitive criminal justice practices to supporting the recovery of individuals with opioid use disorder throughout the state.”

Currently, an estimated 77 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals with opioid use disorder relapse to opioid use within three months of release, even after participating in a counseling program while incarcerated. Recent experience in Rhode Island has shown that offering system-wide comprehensive addiction treatment to inmates results in a reduction in overdose deaths in recently released prisoners, and in the state as a whole.

Between when Sen. Sanborn introduced LD 1096 and Friday’s public hearing, the Maine Department of Corrections began four pilot programs for medication assisted treatment (MAT) within Maine’s correctional facilities. As such, Sen. Sanborn has asked the Committee to not take further action on her bill until next year, to review results from the pilot programs, and serve as a legislative vehicle, in case any changes in legislation are necessary to accomplish the goal of a state-wide program. The pilot program, which the Department hopes to have up and running by late summer, will serve approximately 115 people.

“The MAT pilot will do more than treat individuals with an opioid use disorder,” said Commissioner Randall Liberty of the Department of Corrections. “It can prevent and reduce relapses, which will certainly reduce the return to custody rates.”

LD 1096 is scheduled for further discussion in the Committee on April 24, at which point the Committee members could decide to delay any votes on the bill until the 2020 legislative session, as requested by Sen. Sanborn.