Vermont Prisons Pilot New Addiction Treatment Program

MONTPELIER, Vt. — A pilot program studying the treatment of Vermont inmates with opiate addictions took effect on Oct. 20 and could potentially change the way the state manages this unique population.

Pursuant to Act 195, the directive approved a yearlong study to evaluate the effectiveness of on-site treatment for individuals who become incarcerated while participating in opiate addiction treatment. The study will allow these inmates to receive supervised opiate-replacement therapy, which includes the use of drugs such as methadone, buprenorphine and Suboxone, for up to 90 days. The current system-wide limit is just 30 days. Inmates also will be given an appropriate taper at the conclusion of their treatment.

Though inmates will be able to participate in the pilot regardless of their status as detained or sentenced, they must be in good standing with their outside treatment provider upon incarceration and remain in good standing with respect to each facility’s rules for continued treatment. Inmates who remain in good standing, and for whom treatment has not concluded at the point of release, will be transferred back to either their initial provider or an alternative site for further treatment.

Presently, the study is limited to inmates at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington and Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton. Medical staff at each facility will provide qualifying inmates with medication-assisted treatment on site rather than sending them off site for treatment in nearby clinics. These off-site visits typically involve heavy security and physical restraints. In an Oct. 21 press conference announcing the pilot program, Vermont Department of Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito called this off-site treatment method resource intensive, inhumane and not particularly safe.

Speaking with NECN, Pallito described the new on-site approach as “a complete culture shift in the department.” He added that, though the program will require increased security measures and medication monitoring, it will be less disruptive to the inmates and more economical as it will cut down on transportation costs.

The program is also intended to be a recidivism fighter. Currently, between 70 and 80 percent of the state’s inmates are serving time for drug-related or drug-fueled offenses, according to Pallito. Meanwhile, the state’s recidivism rate hovers between 40 and 41 percent.

Both during the program and at its completion, the Department of Corrections will provide progress reports to the state’s legislative committee. If the pilot proves successful, the committee could expand the program and institute to additional facilities throughout the state.