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Michigan Women Inmates Struggle With Drug Addiction

Illegal drugs are so rampant at Michigan's only prison for women that it is harder to stay clean while in custody than on the streets, say five prisoners who described their struggles in hand-written letters, the Detroit Free Press reports. Though some attend Narcotics Anonymous in prison, the women said there is a lack of programming to fight addiction at Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility near Ypsilanti, especially for prisoners with many years to wait before their earliest release date. Prison spokesman Chris Gautz denied drugs are as readily available as the women described, that prison users are treated more harshly than suppliers, and that there is a lack of programming. In letters and emails, the women describe the easy availability of drugs such as Suboxone, methamphetamine, and "weed paper," which has been sprayed with synthetic drugs such as K2. Two of the women said prisoners who "drop dirty" by failing a drug test face harsh sanctions, such as loss of visits, but prisoners involved in smuggling appear to be treated more leniently.


"Being incarcerated you already face daily struggles," said Barbara Mercer, 33, who serving a life sentence. "The one struggle we should NOT have to face is temptation nor access to drugs." One woman, Barbara Davis, said she only used drugs recreationally until she was sent to the Michigan Department of Corrections, where she became an addict. "I know that the majority of women who abuse drugs in here wish that the drugs were not in here," wrote Davis, 41, who has been in prison for nearly 22 years. The Free Press reported in October that prison overdoses statewide nearly quadrupled between 2019 and 2021, despite an earlier crackdown on mail, under which prisoners receive only photocopies of letters addressed to them, and despite prisons being mostly closed to visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many signs point to prison staff as a source of the drugs. There have been similar findings in other states.

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