UW-CTRI has begun working with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections to help ensure inmates stay smoke-free following their release from prison.
DOC’s interest in inmate smoking relapse reflects their core objective of working with inmates so they do not reoffend. DOC staff know that the risk for reoffending increases dramatically when an inmate relapses regarding substance abuse. Further, staff believe that relapsing on cigarettes makes it more likely that they will relapse on other substances. In this way, relapsing on cigarettes is related to an increased risk of reoffending.
The partnership is part of the Wisconsin Nicotine Treatment Integration Project (WiNTIP), a collaboration between UW-CTRI, the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program, the Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, among others in the field. WiNTiP strives to help people with behavioral health issues, such as alcohol and drug addictions and mental health issues, quit smoking.
Although the smoking prevalence among all American adults is below 18 percent, the prevalence among groups with behavioral health challenges is much higher. This includes inmates who often have mental illness or a substance abuse disorder.
UW-CTRI Researcher Dr. Bruce Christiansen, who coordinates WiNTiP, is working with staff at the Chippewa Valley Correctional Treatment Facility to help inmates to not smoke after their sentences end.
As part of this work, surveys routinely collected by the prison were analyzed. Over 90 percent of the inmates smoked, and 95 percent of those inmates smoked daily.
Clinically, the inmate population is a unique case because Wisconsin prisons are smoke-free, thus the inmates are not smoking and have not been smoking for some time. However, Christiansen notes that the environmental cues inmates have for smoking still exist, leaving them prone to smoke before they leave the parking lot once released.
“The strength of these cues haven’t weakened at all because the inmates haven’t been exposed to them since they were incarcerated. All those cues that were strong when they went in are equally as strong when they come out,” Christiansen said.
According to the survey, almost 75 percent of surveyed inmates at the Chippewa Falls facility said they do not plan to use tobacco upon release, but only one-third want helpful materials and want help to stay smoke-free. This suggests that many inmates may expect it will be easy not to resume smoking.
“The clinical challenge may be to persuade them that it won’t be easy,” Christiansen said.
The next step is to track outcomes from the Chippewa Falls prison. If outcomes are positive, DOC will consider expanding the smoking prevention program to other prisons.