Corrections now charging inmates for overdose treatment

Photo by Nigel Brundson | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

A new policy at the Arizona Department of Corrections requires inmates to pay for their medical treatment if they’re hospitalized for substance abuse.

The Appeal, an online news outlet that covers criminal justice issues, reported on Friday that the agency enacted the policy on March 15. The policy states that inmates who require transport to a hospital for substance abuse must pay restitution for all expenses, as well as the cost of staff overtime.

Arizona inmates typically earn between 10 and 80 cents per hour, according to The Appeal. The department already takes 10 percent of deposits to inmate trust accounts for medical treatment costs. In addition, they must pay a $4 copay for health care visits, and must cover the costs of urinalysis tests that come back positive for drugs.

DOC spokesman Bill Lamoreaux told The Appeal that the policy is designed to hold prisoners accountable for their actions, saying “obtaining contraband, illegal drugs while incarcerated requires a series of deliberate and extremely poor choices.”

The Appeal noted that, according to DOC’s own statistics, 78 percent of inmates have histories of substance abuse. Yet out of more than 42,000 inmates, DOC only provides substance abuse treatment for about 3,000 per year. The only inmates for whom the department provides methadone as a treatment for opioid addiction are pregnant women.

Caroline Isaacs, a program director with the American Friends Service Committee’s Arizona chapter, said the policy is bad enough on its own, but more so given the lack of treatment options available in Arizona prisons.

“It’s just such a massive failure that we would put more resources into criminalizing, prosecuting and incarcerating people for a disease than we would in treating them,” she told the Mirror.

Isaacs noted that, during recent legislative debates over earned release credit legislation that would allow inmates to get out of prison earlier on the condition that they complete some sort of treatment, justice reform advocates have raised concerns that DOC doesn’t actually provide enough of the requisite treatment programs.

Jeremy Duda
Associate Editor Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”


  1. A couple of issues here. First, the “78% of inmates have histories of substance abuse.” “Substance abuse” is a drugwar euphemism for “illegal drug use.” At least 50% of Americans not in prison have smoked pot in their lifetime, and there are surely people who haven’t smoked pot but have used other illegal drugs (including those pain pills you from your cousin’s best friend that time you hurt your back) I’d bet that the population at large wouldn’t fall much short of that “78! %!”

    Another is with Caroline Isaacs’ statement about criminalizing people who have a disease. Even if you buy into the disease model of addiction, the vast majority of people who use illegal drugs are NOT addicts. Addiction is not a crime. It’s the possession, use, and sales of certain drugs that are the crimes. The disgrace isn’t the criminalization of disease. The disgrace is that laws rooted in racism still even have a place in our society.

    I don’t know what you set out to accomplish here, but if the goal was to perpetuate the myths that are the foundation of and the excuse for the drug war, well done.


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