County jail inmates who received methadone, an opiate substitute, took longer to return to jail than opiate addicts who were forced to quit cold turkey, a delay in re-incarceration that slows the revolving door of criminal justice, according to a study conducted by the University of New Mexico.
About a year ago, the chief of the Metropolitan Detention Center ignited debate when he tried to abruptly end the program, which is the only one in the country that provides methadone to jail inmates.
In mid-December, the Bernalillo County Commission voted to extend the methadone provider’s MDC contract for nine more months after seeing results of the UNM study.
The study found that inmates in the methadone maintenance program, which provides a daily dose of methadone to inmates already enrolled in a community-based methadone program, spent almost 40 days longer out of jail than their opiate-addicted counterparts not enrolled in a methadone program. That amounts to per-inmate savings to taxpayers of almost $2,700, according to the study, as taxpayers shell out around $69 to house an inmate per day.
The study published in early December, however, contains another finding that erases the savings: Inmates enrolled in the methadone program tended to stay in jail 36 days longer than other inmates. It’s unclear what causes methadone inmates to stay longer, though the program’s directors and others have a couple guesses – that methadone-receiving inmates are more comfortable in jail than those addicted to heroin, and that inmates getting methadone tend to prefer serving their full sentences and leaving jail without probation.