Substance Abuse and Incarceration

Substance abuse is a public health issue of epic proportions that affects society as a whole but has been criminalized predominantly for poor people of color, resulting in severe, profoundly negative social consequences. The devastation that often accompanies the criminalization of substance abuse places heavy demands on criminal justice, correctional, and treatment systems, as well as on people who are incarcerated, their families, and their communities.

Driven, in part, by the deleterious effects of the “war on drugs” and the legacy of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, the New York prison system has unintentionally become the single largest provider of substance abuse treatment in the state. Correctional officials estimate that more than three quarters of the state’s prison population need substance abuse treatment.

Providing effective treatment can help individuals overcome their addictions and address the underlying causes of the activities that led them into prison, thereby improving prison safety, reducing recidivism, preparing individuals for their release, and contributing to safer communities. Alternatively, lack of treatment can postpone parole for persons mandated to complete a treatment program, or prevent those who are struggling with addiction from accessing help throughout years of a lengthy sentence. Moreover, effectively designed treatment programs can be the foundation on which people in prison can build as they continue treatment in the community upon release.

Given the population’s considerable need for treatment, it is crucial that these programs be effective—but historically, DOCCS substance abuse treatment programming has been subject to little analysis or monitoring.

To address this need, the CA completed a comprehensive study of substance abuse treatment in New York’s prisons. After publishing Treatment Behind Bars: Substance Abuse Treatment in New York State Prisons, the CA presented findings and recommendations to agency officials, key legislators, and the general public. In response to the release, the New York Times published an editorial calling on the state to adopt the CA’s recommendations that identifies a more rigorous approach to substance abuse treatment utilizing a more effective screening and assessment process, treatment tailored to individuals’ needs, standardized programs, continuity of care, and up-to-date, evidenced-based treatment modalities. The CA continues to assess treatment programs during general monitoring and advocate for implementation of key recommendations.



News | January 9, 2017

CA Applauds Commitment to Raise the Age in Governor Cuomo’s State of the State Address, Laments No Mention of Racism, Violence, and Abuse in NYS Prisons

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CA Applauds Commitment to Raise the Age in Governor Cuomo’s State of the State Address, Laments No Mention of Racism, Violence, and Abuse in NYS Prisons January 9, 2017 (New York, NY): The Correctional Association of New York roundly applauds the continued commitment of Governor Andrew Cuomo to raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York, ending the prosecution and incarceration of 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.Read More

News | December 28, 2016

Departing RTA Campaign Manager Angelo Pinto on Why – and How – New York State Must Raise the Age


Angelo Pinto joined the CA’s Juvenile Justice Project in July 2012 to oversee our Raise the Age Campaign, which seeks to increase New York State’s age of criminal responsibility, end the practice of housing children in adult jails and prisons, and ensure that children in the justice system receive appropriate rehabilitative services. New York remains one of only two states, along with North Carolina, that still prosecutes and incarcerates 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. In this brief interview, as we approach a new legislative session in New York State and continued calls to Raise the Age, Angelo shares his insights, perspective, and advice on how the CA and our partners in this fight can most effectively advocate for this much-needed policy change.Read More

News | September 22, 2016

Board of the Correctional Association of New York Appoints Carlton S. Mitchell Interim Executive Director

CSM photo

On September 22, 2016, the Board of Directors of the Correctional Association of New York announced the appointment of Carlton S. Mitchell as Interim Executive Director. He will start his duties in September 2016. Read More

News | December 19, 2014

CA Testifies Before NYC Correction Board to Oppose New Rule Establishing Enhanced Supervision Housing (ESH) Units

In testimony presented at a public hearing on proposed rule making by the NYC Board of Correction (BOC), the CA strongly expressed its opposition to the establishment of Enhanced Supervision Housing (ESH) units in its jails. The CA also called for an end to solitary confinement for everyone incarcerated in NYC and New York State jails and prisons, responding to recent reports that NYC will end such treatment for 16- and 17-year olds only.Read More

News | June 10, 2014

1000 Religious Leaders Call for Smarter Federal Drug Sentencing

Hundreds of faith leaders affiliated with more than 40 faith organizations, including Roman Catholics, Jews, Evangelical Protestants and Mainline Protestants signed onto a letter calling on Congress to support the Smarter Sentencing Act (S1410/HR3382). Read More

News | May 13, 2013

‘From Punishment to Wellness’ – May 20 Conference

The Correctional Association is proud to partner in this day-long conversation about women and the war on drugs.Read More

News | August 2, 2012

Tune in for a special radio update on conditions from the Correctional Association

Soffiyah Elijah in the studio of On the Count

This Saturday, August 4th, the Correctional Association will kick off a series of live quarterly reports to the public on our prison monitoring work and conditions inside New York's prisons. Read More

News | April 1, 2007

Prison Visiting Project Launches Substance Abuse Treatment Study

DOCCS identifies approximately three quarters of the state's prison population as needing substance abuse treatment.Read More

CA in the Press | November 5, 2017

State struggles to provide prison health care

ALBANY — New York’s complex of 54 state prison facilities is struggling to fill vacant jobs for nurses, doctors and other health care providers. Filling those vacancies and dealing with an aging prison population at facilities across the state have become among the tallest challenges for the $3 billion correctional system, top administrators concede.Read More

CA in the Press | January 3, 2017

Letter to the Editor: Alleviating the Pain When a Parent Is in Jail

To the Editor: Re “Serving as a Role Model During a Father’s Absence” (The Neediest Cases, Dec. 21): It’s nice to see young Jaylen benefit from the MentorCHIP program. But children whose parents are incarcerated need regular visits with their parents. Studies show that children’s emotional, scholastic and social adjustment improve when they have regularly scheduled visits to alleviate the pain of losing a parent.Read More

CA in the Press | July 12, 2016

County Jail Wants to Start Program to Help Addicts

Inmates who qualify for the program would receive a shot of the drugVivitrol – which blocks highs from heroin, other opioids and alcohol – two days before release. The Oneida County Sheriff’s Office wants to start a program to help inmates beat opioid addiction before they leave county jail. Inmates who choose to go into and qualify for the program would receive a shot of the drug Vivitrol two days before release.Read More

CA in the Press | August 2, 2015

Pell grants to bring college back to prison: US is ‘a nation of second chances’

A couple of months after Sam Hamilton was released from Fishkill correctional facility, a medium security prison in upstate New York where he spent 32 years on charges of felony and murder, he returned to the prison – this time as a civilian. Hamilton was there to celebrate. His friends, 24 inmates at Fishkill were graduating with degrees in organizational management from Nyack College, which they completed while serving time.Read More

CA in the Press | July 15, 2015

Windows from Prison Provides Visions of Home

The women in Clearman’s workshop who chose to participate wrote letters detailing the location they wanted photographed, instructions for the photographer and, in some instances, a brief explanation of why the location was important to them. Requests were also received from a nearby juvenile detention facility. Strandquist’s only stipulation was that the locations be within the New York City metropolitan area.Read More

CA in the Press | March 31, 2015

Deprived of Care, Incarcerated Women Suffer Miscarriages, Stillbirths, Ectopic Pregnancies

On the morning of September 11, 2011, Krystal Moore thought she was dying. Sharp pain stabbed at her stomach, so much so that she curled up into a fetal position on her bed. She didn’t know what was happening. Though she was pregnant, she was only six months along, not nearly ready to give birth.Read More

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CA in the Press | March 7, 2015

Una vida dedicada a las presas y sus derechos

“Algunas de las mujeres con las que hablamos nos relataron cómo dieron a luz con grilletes en sus muñecas o sus tobillos, encadenadas durante el parto, imagínate. Otras fueron esposadas durante el embarazo con esas ´black boxes´ o cajas negras que debían cargar arriba de la barriga,” relata indignada esta doctora boricua que entrevistó a casi 1,000 presas en distintas cárceles de NY.Read More

CA in the Press | February 20, 2015

New York Is Illegally Shackling Pregnant Incarcerated Women

The state of New York is illegally shackling incarcerated women during childbirth, according to a new report on reproductive justice from the Correctional Association of New York. “Women continue to be shackled on the way to the hospital (even when they are in labor), during recovery (even within hours after giving birth and for long periods of time), and on the way back to the prison (even with waist chains just days after having a C-section),” the report said.Read More

CA in the Press | February 13, 2015

New York Prisons are Illegally Shackling Inmates During Labor, Harrowing Report Finds

The controversial practice of shackling pregnant inmates — which major medical associations have condemned as “hazardous” and “barbaric” — is increasingly falling out of favor. States have pushed forward to ban it, and U.S. lawmakers have worked to prevent shackling in immigration detention centers. But having a ban on the books doesn’t necessarily mean that prisons have actually ended the practice.Read More

| November 11, 2012

Q&A: Prison expert Soffiyah Elijah on reducing prison costs, drug-related crimes

Soffiyah Elijah

Soffiyah Elijah, 57, is the executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, which monitors conditions in state prisons. The first woman and first person of color to head the 170-year-old organization, she lives in Park Slope with her parents and the elder of her two sons.Read More


Prison Monitoring Reports

Attica State Prison

Attica Correctional Facility, a 2,000-bed maximum security prison in western New York, continues to operate as a symbolic and real epicenter of state violence and abuse of incarcerated persons in the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) state prison system 43 years after the 1971 prison uprising and violent suppression by state authorities. Read More

Prison Monitoring Reports

Auburn Correctional Facility

Auburn was the first prison to implement the “Auburn System,” a system of incarceration in which incarcerated people worked in groups during the day, were housed in solitary cells during the night, and lived in enforced silence. Today, Auburn Correctional Facility operates as a maximum security, DOCCS-operated prison for men ages 21 and older.Read More


Drop The Rock Advocacy in Albany 2010

NYC youth attend Advocacy Day in Albany to speak out against the Rockefeller Drug Laws and advocate for less spending on incarceration and more spending on education.Read More

Organizational Materials

CA Bulletin: Spring 2011

In this issue; Welcoming Soffiyah Elijah to the CA; Treatment Behind Bars: New report from the Prison Visiting Project; 300 advocates take on Albany—Advocacy Day 2011Read More

Reports & Research

Treatment Behind Bars: Substance Abuse Treatment in New York State Prisons, 2007-2010

A comprehensive review of New York's prison-based substance abuse treatment programs. Read More

Fact Sheets

Substance Abuse Treatment in New York Prisons

Effective in-prison treatment programs go beyond the recovery of individual participants to enhance the quality of life within a prison and improve public health and safety outside its walls.Read More

Organizational Materials

CA Bulletin: Winter 2010

In this issue; Crisis in the Juvenile Prisons; CA 2010 Policy Agenda; Drop the Rock Advocacy DayRead More

Fact Sheets

Analysis of Rockefeller Drug Law Reform Bill

PROS Restores judicial discretion for broad categories of individuals charged with drug offenses, including many second felony drug offenders. As an estimate, between 45 – 55% of the drug offenders currently confined in New York’s prisons – from about 5400 to 6600 people – would have been eligible for judicial diversion at sentencing.Read More


Transcript of Panel Discussion on the Rockefeller Drug Laws

Rev. Calvin Butts, Assemblyman Jeff Aubry, Manhattan District Attorney Bridget Brennan, and CA Executive Director Robert Gangi participate in a panel called Drugs and The Law: Race, Politics, Prisons and Justice in New York State.Read More


Testimony on Prison Substance Abuse Treatment

Testimony by Shayna Kessler, Prison Visiting Project Associate The Correctional Association of New York Before the Assembly Committee on Codes, the Assembly Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and the Assembly Committee on Corrections.Read More