Addiction Awareness Scholarship Campaign 2020 – A Corrections Officer’s View on Addiction

Name: Matthew Wagner

A Corrections Officer’s View on Addiction

A Corrections Officer’s View on Addiction

Good morning. My name is Matthew Wagner and I am applying for the 2020 Addiction Awareness Scholarship. I currently work as a supervisor for Corrections in a maximum-security state correctional facility. I am also a former Deputy Sheriff. I grew up in a neighborhood where substance addiction was prevalent, so I have experience in seeing this problem from several angles.

As a corrections officer, I see many offenders who struggle with addiction. I am tasked with searching for illicit substances, taking them for evidence and seeking disciplinary/criminal charges against the offender if necessary. However, one thing I’ve noticed throughout my career is that most of these individuals do not use the drug because they like the drug, they use it as a way of escaping their own problems or distracting themselves. I have heard many offenders in many different programs talking about how drugs were their only real source of relief from the problems around them before they became incarcerated. They did not know that they had programs available to assist them or they didn’t have any faith in the programs. Many of them said that they did not think they could afford the programs. Many of them stated that the only reason they even sought treatment was because they were being made to as a course of their criminal cases.

I believe that we as a nation have a major addiction problem due to the underlying problems with mental health issues and behavioral issues in our society. As people go through hard times, they may lose faith in the system and turn to other illicit means of relief such as substances. I have heard many offenders (and people I grew up with before I got into law enforcement, I grew up in a rough neighborhood and was around much of this myself) state that if they had sufficient mental health treatment options or sufficient social service options, they would not have needed the drugs to feel better. They feel like the drugs are their only option because the system is failing to help them get out of the problems they are stuck in.

In addition to increasing interdiction efforts against the suppliers of illegal substances rather than the users, I feel that we can help alleviate the addiction problem in our society by focusing on our mental health treatment options, empowering our social workers, encouraging addicts to seek treatment without judgment, offering more alternatives to incarceration for drug offenses, remembering that there are more types of addiction than just narcotics and that some of the addictive substances are legal… and by remembering that we should be supportive of the addict rather than judgmental. Many addicts are seeking help and simply do not know where to turn for realistic assistance. We need to keep the community involved in treatment options and we need to help eliminate the stigma against addicts. Addiction can be caused by poor choices, but it is so much more than a choice. It is a disease that requires treatment and ongoing care.

Matthew Wagner

Student – University of Phoenix

May 26th, 2020