Substance Use Disorder Treatment

Justice-involved women are disproportionately women of color, are more likely to have been convicted of a drug-related offense, and are more likely to have histories of substance use, mental health issues, trauma, sexual violence and physical abuse than male offenders.  They are also likely to have limited education, sporadic employment histories, and to reside in Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods where crime rates are high. 

While limited treatment is available for women during incarceration, there are even fewer options for them to continue their treatment once released or placed on probation. Adding to the problem is the reality that many justice-involved women are reluctant to enter into mainstream treatment programs because they fear they will be judged harshly by others due to their criminal histories.

Research conducted by the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee (Rose & LaBel, 2017) demonstrates that women incarcerated at the Milwaukee House of Correction (HOC) suffer higher rates of mental health conditions, substance use, and past trauma:

  • Nearly three-fourths (72.1%) of women at the HOC had positive screening findings for substance use.
  • More than two–thirds (67.1%) reported having a mental health condition. 
  • The most common mental health disorders reported were depression (58.8%) and anxiety (46.7%).  More than two-thirds (68.8%) reported having a co-occurring condition (substance use and mental health condition).
  • Women also have complex histories of childhood trauma with an average Adverse Childhood Events (ACE) score of 5.2 out of 10 placing them at extremely high risk for mental health and substance use issues.

In recent years, the Benedict Center has noticed a steady increase in the number of women served who present with a history of opioid addiction.  The American Correctional Association estimates that 17% -19% of people in U.S. jails or prisons have regularly used opioids or heroin prior to incarceration.  Equally troubling is the finding that the risk of opioid related death rate for individuals with opioid addictions who are released from jail or prison is 40 times higher than the general population (National Reentry Resource Center, 2018). Without access to treatment and medication (opioid inhibitors), women are at the highest risk of relapse and opioid related death immediately following their release. 

Treatment at the Benedict Center

As a licensed behavioral health facility, the Benedict Center provides mental health and substance use treatment services that are specifically designed to address the unique needs of justice-involved women. Our Women's Harm Reduction Program provides licensed individual and group substance use disorder treatment counseling and evidence-based psychotherapeutic groups with case management for women who have involvement with the criminal justice system. 

Women complete individualized assessments using evidence-based tools to assess the impact of trauma and substance use in their lives. Staff work collaboratively with women to develop individualized treatment plans that include concrete goals. Substance use treatment is grounded in the Harm Reduction philosophy and in the Stages of Change model that is client focused and meets women where they are.

Harm Reduction Approach

  • Participant-centered, non-judgmental approach
  • Offers individualized, realistic treatment plans
  • Recognizes that change is a “process” not an immediate transformation
  • Measures success by improvements in the overall quality of one’s life
  • Focuses on the individual’s strengths rather than her weaknesses

The Benedict Center offers women an accepting environment where they are not afraid to share their stories and where they can learn from each other how to heal, and how to make positive and lasting changes in their lives. Treatment plan goals go beyond measuring sobriety and mental health; they consider factors that promote well-being including safer housing, health care, healthy relationships, and social supports. Attendance, program completion, and court case completion are tracked. Client surveys provide additional feedback on the progress women have made and their satisfaction with services.

We work closely with the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Services as part of the Community Access to Recovery Services network of providers.  We work closely with treatment providers like Meta House, Milwaukee County BHD, First Step (detox), and Dewey Center to coordinate inpatient and aftercare for women. 

In our Women's Reentry Program, women incarcerated at the Milwaukee House of Correction meet with a Reentry Case Manager prior to release to develop a plan of action that will support their successful reentry into the community.  Women participate in a wide array of group activities focused on substance use relapse prevention, trauma reduction, and increasing their coping skills. Women also receive assistance with finding safe and sober living environments, health care, and other basic needs services following incarceration.