Supporting Inmates After They are Released

/ Blog Post

In continuation of our blog post detailing how Equal Justice Works Fellows are advocating for at-risk inmates to be released from detention facilities amid COVID-19, we bring to you this second post that explores how our Fellows are supporting inmates following their release.

Across the country, judges are responding to criminal justice advocates’ pleas to take precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in jails and prisons. As thousands of inmates are safely reunited with their loved ones, advocates are wondering: What happens now that they have been released?

Individuals released from detention facilities receive little preparation and inadequate support, making it extremely difficult for them to successfully transition back into society. They face challenges in finding employment, securing housing, and addressing their health needs.

According to a 2019 study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 65% of the United States prison population has an active substance-use disorder, compared to approximately 8% of the general population.

Despite these alarming statistics, only a few prisons and jails provide Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), the medically approved way to treat people with opioid-use disorder in combination with therapy. The consequence of this inadequate treatment? Post-release, the leading cause of death is an opioid-related overdose.

Before COVID-19, 2019 Fellow Joseph Longley focused on securing access to necessary care for incarcerated people with opioid-use disorder. Through filing lawsuits, Joseph argued that prisons who deny MAT to incarcerated people with an opioid-use disorder are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Eighth Amendment.

Now that some of his clients have been released, Joseph is tackling an even larger question: how will his clients continue to receive treatment for their opioid-use disorder?

One solution that has been implemented is allowing individuals to take home up to 28 days of buprenorphine (one of the three FDA-approved MAT medications). Further, Joseph and his host organization, the ACLU National Prison Project, support ensuring that Medicaid is available to incarcerated people. This way, formerly incarcerated people can access their necessary medications immediately upon release, without getting caught up in red tape.

“As we continue to fight the opioid epidemic, we know that it only takes providing eleven incarcerated people with MAT to save one life,” said Joseph.

Still, one of the best ways to ensure people continue MAT after their release from jail or prison is to make sure that they never have their MAT treatment taken away while they are incarcerated. Amid the pandemic, Joseph is writing a report about the opioid epidemic in jails and prisons, and pursuing lawsuits against local jails and prisons to ensure that individuals receive access to their MAT.

Thanks to Joseph’s incredible advocacy, more people are getting the opioid treatment they need to live safe and healthy lives. We’re proud to support passionate public service leaders, like Joseph, who are working hard to protect the rights of others amid this pandemic.

2019 Equal Justice Works Fellow Joseph Longley is supported by an anonymous sponsor. Learn more about his advocacy work here.

As we continue to fight the opioid epidemic, we know that it only takes providing eleven incarcerated people with [Medication-Assisted Treatment] to save one life.

Joseph Longley /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow