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Ethics: Formerly Incarcerated Substance Addicts


As an ethical concern, the decision of whether former inmates with drug dependency issues should have the access to medicinal substances remains open. The ethical dilemma between the decision to offer released prisoners the opportunity to start the process of healing and the threat that they may turn to crime once again is quite difficult to resolve, which is why a comprehensive overview of the problem from the tenet of different ethical philosophies is needed.

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The refusal to provide former prisoners with medicinal drugs as the means of fighting their substance dependency is also fraught with consequences since it may prompt the target population to seek affordable substances elsewhere. As a result, former inmates are highly likely to reconnect with their previous criminal partners in an attempt to gain access to drugs. Thus, the reasoning behind the ethics of offering former inmates the opportunity to receive medicinal drugs seems quite legitimate.

However, the specified situation can also be viewed from a different perspective. Namely, the problem of offering access to medicinal drugs for former inmates as the tool for containing the threat that they represent to the society may be interpreted as the incitement of the increase in their substance abuse levels. Moreover, the provision of the corresponding services to help former inmates to manage their drug dependency may cause further complications, which mostly imply the threat of former prisoners abusing the system. In turn, the refusal form offering the relevant services can be interpreted as the violation of former inmates’ basic human rights and, therefore, the refutation of the essential standards of ethics.

Key Concepts: Definitions

The problem of drug misuse is one of the major health concerns nowadays. According to the DSM-5 definition, drug misuse falls under the category of substance disorders that require the active support of health services and a combination of behavioral therapy and active interventions (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Possible Solutions

Currently, two opportunities for resolving the issue of formerly incarcerated people with substance abuse exists. From an ethical perspective, there are two solutions that can be seen as equally viable. Providing formerly incarcerated people with substance dependency issues with free access to medicinal drugs represents one of the possible sides of the argument. However, the question at hand can also be approached from the entirely opposite perspective by claiming that formerly incarcerated people should be denied free access to medicinal drugs due to the high probability of relapse and the ensuing negative consequences.

Without the availability of free medicinal opioids, former inmates are very likely to resort to seeking their old connections to locate substances that will alleviate their pain (Houser & Belenko, 2015). Therefore, by prohibiting the access to medicinal drugs to former inmates, one will make a moral mistake by pushing them to the life that they were expected to abandon after having been released from prison.

Approaching the concern from the principles of Deontology one will realize that the concern is sufficiently legitimate and that the needs of former inmates have to be recognized just as the needs of any other citizen would be in a similar scenario (Scripcaru, Iliescu, Knieling, Dobrin, & Scripcaru, 2017). The suggested viewpoint cannot be seen as entirely flawless since it does not allow taking the needs of the mother or the infant into consideration and, instead, justifies the idea of offering former inmates drugs that will support them while they are experiencing chemical dependency and are facing the risks of relapse and exposure to their former criminal environment.

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Although the second solution might be seen as harsh and ethically unjustified, one will realize upon further evaluation of the problem that the provision of free access to drugs for former prisoners may be rife with consequences. Namely, instead of serving a healing purpose, the proposed ethical decision will cause a relapse and revert former inmates to the same path of crime that they used to follow before being imprisoned. The specified approach to addressing the dilemma of drug rehabilitation in former inmates can be seen as sensible when managing the issue from the standpoint of the principles of Utilitarianism.

Indeed, the described ethical framework suggests that, while an ethical problem may be seen as extraordinarily complex, it always needs to be approached from the position of the best outcome possible. In the described context, the best resolution implies introducing rigid control over the distribution of medicinal drugs to former inmates as an ethical compromise between the threat of former prisoners abusing the system and them seeking other and most likely illegal ways of receiving the required substance.

Although the proposed solutions are far from being perfect, each captures the essence of the two main ethical arguments, each stemming from the need to address the concerns of vulnerable groups, yet each also representing a different focus and the needs of different types of demographic.

Descriptive Ethics

The current ethical perspectives on the issue at hand vary significantly. The inability to locate the solution that will meet the existing moral standards and allows for the most ethically flawless outcome can be explained by the lack of control over the outcomes and the presence of both multiple factors and numerous effects that the decision will produce. As a result, the positions on the subject at hand are quite different and do not necessarily imply adhering to one view or the other. Instead, there are multiple nuances that make the problem of administering free treatment based on the reduction of drug dosage to former inmates all the more complicated.

For example, the financial aspect of the problem is one of the key determinants in the arguments against the policy since the suggested form of therapy requires a large amount of financial support that could be used for allegedly more important cause (Birks & Douglas, 2018).

Therefore, one of the perspectives on the issue in question, which can be seen as the Utilitarianism approach, stems from the need to address the reasonability of allocating the available financial assets in the way that would focus primarily on the problem of drug dependency in former inmates. Since the available resources are quite scarce, utilizing most of them to address a single concern does not seem reasonable given the existence of much greater issues in the modern justice system.

However, when evaluating the problem from the perspective of the social concerns, one will observe a shift in priorities in regard to the ethical reasoning and the choices that one may make to handle the concern in question. Namely, the introduction of the principles of Deontology and the focus on virtue ethics can be seen when applying the outcomes of the proposed changes in the policies to the community, in general.

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Since tracking down every possible impact that the enactment of either of the solutions outlined above does not seem possible given the vast range of societal factors defining the outcomes, the integration of the principles of Deontology as the idea of acting based on one’s moral obligations seems to be the only possible solution in the described context. The issue is complicated by the possibility of the target demographic reconnecting with their previous criminal record and the danger of them returning to the criminal practices that they should have abandoned after having been released from prison.

Finally, the concept of Consequentialism as the basis for decision-making in the described context should be addressed. Implying that ethical choices should be made based on the possible outcomes of the proposed solution to the problem of managing drug addition in former inmates, the philosophy of Consequentialism will require considering the implications of the proposed policies, thus allowing one to determine how each of the outcomes will affect the target population and the community as a whole.

Examining Assumptions

Addressing each of the perspectives on the issue of providing medicinal drugs to former inmates, one will have to concede that both solutions outlined above have rather a valid reasoning behind them. To identify logical flaws in the opposing argument and locate problematic aspects in the ethical premises based on which the argumentation is structured, the opposing view should be dissected first. The idea that former prisoners should not be provided with the opportunity to receive free medicinal drugs as a part of their rehabilitation process might seem like a reasonable ethical choice given the possible legal and social ramifications of the specified choice.

Indeed, the concept of offering free access to drugs to former inmates can be seen as a rather dangerous solution that may entail their further relapse, as well as the possibility of abusing the system. However, when viewing it from the standpoint of the Deontological ethical framework, which implies that duty should be seen as the main driver behind decision-making, the idea of denying people with chemical dependency access to the resources that may alleviate their physical pain and assist them in their recovery seems morally and ethically wrong.

Similarly, when approaching the subject matter from the perspective of the principles of Utilitarianism, which suggests that the greater good should be seen as the main focus of decision-making, the proposed approach seems ethically unreasonable since the positive effects are questionable in the described scenario as well. Theoretically, the refusal to provide former inmates the specified method of managing their drug dependency will help to curb the levels of drug consumption; however, in practice, the proposed course of actions will most likely entail further complications.

Specifically, former prisoners may resort to locating other sources of drugs, which will involve reconnecting with their criminal ties that they were supposed to abandon after being released from prison. Therefore, the suggested solution does not seem ethically viable since it does not lead to general well-being and, instead, affects former inmates negatively, at the same time putting the rest of the community in danger.

The application of the principles of Consequentialism to the proposed solution, which suggests that offering inmates access to medical drugs will allow for a large improvement, implies that the proposed solution is much more legitimate. From the perspective of Consequentialism, the possible outcomes of the proposed intervention, including the opportunities that it entails for former inmates that suffer from chemical addiction are going to be the pivotal point of decision-making in regard to the application of the suggested policy.

Indeed research shows that the introduction of the Consequentialism perspective into the argument allows addressing the needs of a wider range of audiences, including both former inmates and the society at large. For example, the paper by Vearrier (2019) proves that the introduction of the proposed measures will ultimately lead to a large improvement in the well-being of the target population, as well as the society at large.

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Therefore, the ethical premises of Consequentialism is the foundation principle of addressing ethical concerns see to be the most sensible approach to take when handling the dilemma of providing the described treatment options for former inmates. While the philosophy of Consequentialism also embraces the possible negative impact of the suggested solution, such as the threat of former inmates abusing the system and using it to sustain their condition, it also allows managing the problem in a way that may help both the target audience and the local community, in general.

Moral Reasoning/Philosophy

Addressing the problem of providing access to medicinal drugs to former prison inmates, one will have to concede that the decision involving the support of inmates through the provision of medicinal substances is the most ethically correct solution to the issue. The described approach suggests that the principles of Consequentialism, which implies keeping the focus on the needs of individuals, should be deployed.

The focus on utility, which the second option suggests, does not allow for the necessary analysis of the personal needs and the effective compliance with the basic principles of human rights which is required in the identified scenario. Indeed, the study by Husak (2018) shows that the consequentialist perspective prioritizes human rights and the necessity to recognize them in decision-making, which, in turn, the Utilitarianism perspective omits.

One might make an argument about the need to apply the principles of Deontology to the case under analysis as the foundation for making a choice regarding the provision of drugs to former inmates. Indeed, at first glance, the introduction of the Deontological perspective as the approach opposing the Utilitarianism position seems quite reasonable. However, while the Deontological framework suggests that the principles of morality should be upheld as the main strategic element of decision-making in the specified context, the Deontological framework does not seem to bother with the needs of an individual. Instead, it focuses on the abstract notion of morality, whereas the ethics of Consequentialism creates room for addressing the needs of an individual.

According to Chan (2019), “Although this human rights debate can also be based on different absolute or Deontological moral theories, the focus here is Consequentialism” (p. 456). In its turn, the situation under analysis clearly implies that the human rights of former inmates have to be considered when making a decision concerning changes in the current policies. Thus, the application of the Deontological perspective as opposed to the Deontological and Utilitarian one seems to be the most sensible approach in this case.

Therefore, the proposed solution is ethical since it places basic human rights, namely, the right to receive healthcare assistance, at the top of the list of priorities. Arguably, the integration of the Deontological perspective would have added weight to the argument concerning the importance of addressing the needs of every person disregarding their background. The described change in perspective is important since the target demographic is represented by former criminals, who are often doomed to bear the stigma of crime in their community for the rest of their lives and be mistrusted by general audiences, as well as the representatives of local healthcare services (Banks, 2018).

The Deontological approach, in turn, would have allowed viewing the target population as the vulnerable group, denying the rights of those who would have been morally wrong and irresponsible. However, the appeal to emotions, which the suggested ethical perspective implies, does not seem reasonable in the specified case since it can be repealed just as easily by addressing the emotional concerns of the rust of the community members. Thus, instead, one should use logic as the basic argument in favor of the rights of individuals that have been released from prison. Once the fact that every human being is entitled to receiving healthcare assistance is established, claiming that former prisoners should not be provided with access to medicinal substances becomes null and void.

Thus, since the sanctity of human life is the basic premise of every ethical framework, the choice of the first option, namely, the provision of drug-based support to formerly incarcerated people with drug misuse issues, should be recognized as the most legitimate solution to the described issue. Although the principles of Utilitarianism, Deontology, and Consequentialism may not agree on the effects that either of the proposed solutions provides, the importance of the target audience’s well-being should be regarded as the major value that needs to be upheld during the decision-making process and the ethical contemplations.

Therefore, the selection of the first option that provides former prisoners with access to medicinal drugs as the means of assisting them in the management of their mental health issues appears to be the only sensible choice to make. Implying that the legislation will comply with the basic ethical standards and moral values by sustaining human life and ensuring its decency, the specified solution might be flawed, yet it represents the scenario in which all parties involved are allowed to benefit and are shielded from possible harm.


The problem of chemical dependency in former prison inmates remains one of the most controversial yet urgent ethical issues on the agenda of contemporary society. Although the idea of providing the healthcare support and the necessary medications to the target population to assist them in transitioning to a healthy lifestyle seems to be the most legitimate solution and, possibly, the only reasonable choice to make, there are other arguments regarding the subject matter.

While the idea of offering medical support in form of medicinal drugs to former prison inmates seems to be rational from the position of Deontology, it fails to recognize the possible side effects that become obvious from the perspective of Utilitarianism. Therefore, applying both ethical standpoints to analyze the issue and provide appropriate solutions is an absolutely indispensable step in the described circumstances.

The choice of the Deontological ethical framework as the appeal to the current moral standards and the necessity to recognize the basic human rights of former inmates, including the right to effective healthcare, is presently the solution that was selected to match the existing value system and the principles of rehabilitation reinforced in the present-day justice system. It is imperative to encourage empathy toward all types of patients with chemical dependency, including former inmates. Thus, the problem of ethics and morality in the contemporary global community will be partially addressed.

Namely, with the focus on human life as the foundational value and the ultimate goal of any endeavor, the framework in question will be deployed. The suggested ethical principles are deeply linked to the idea of the penal system having not only the function of punishing people but also the chance at rehabilitating them. Therefore, the principles of Deontology as the focus on the innate moral standards should be integrated into the general perspective in the specified scenario.

In order to produce a change in the existing system, the proposed ethical solution should gain the status of regulation. Thus, abusing or ignoring it will become inexplicably harder, which means that official authorities will have to comply with it and offer former inmates access to medicinal drugs. Thus, the problem of former inmates returning to their criminal behaviors due to the need for illegal substances will be nonexistent in the modern American community.

Therefore, the use of the Consequentialism theory as the platform for deciding whether medicinal substances should be provided to former inmates has to be seen as a complete necessity. Otherwise, the decision-making process will either be clouded by the presence of emotions, as the Deontological perspective implies, or will be obscured by the shift in priorities and the dismissal of the needs of former inmates, as the Utilitarianism perspective dictates.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). DSM‑5 (Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

Banks, C. (2018). Criminal justice ethics: Theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Birks, D., & Douglas, T. (Eds.). (2018). Treatment for crime: Philosophical essays on neurointerventions in criminal justice. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Chan, B. S. (2019). Enhanced interrogation, consequential evaluation, and human rights to health. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, 16(3), 455-461. Web.

Houser, K., & Belenko, S. (2015). Disciplinary responses to misconduct among female prison inmates with mental illness, substance use disorders, and co-occurring disorders. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 38(1), 24-34. Web.

Husak, D. (2018). Thoughts on drug policy, public health, and crime: More support for decriminalization. Bergen Journal of Criminal Law & Criminal Justice, 6(1), 1-19.

Scripcaru, V., Iliescu, D. B., Knieling, A., Dobrin, R. P., & Scripcaru, A. (2017). Suicide and drug consumption legislative and deontological implications. Bulletin of Integrative Psychiatry, 23(3), 41-47.

Vearrier, L. (2019). The value of harm reduction for injection drug use: A clinical and public health ethics analysis. Disease-a-Month, 65(5), 119-141. Web.

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