Latvia opens addiction treatment center at Olaine prison

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About 80% of Latvia's prisoners are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Despite security measures, many go on using banned substances while imprisoned. On Wednesday, an addiction treatment center is being opened at the Olaine prison, marking Latvia's first initiative to fight drug dependency in penitentiaries, reported Latvian Radio's Māra Rozenberga.

Admission to the treatment center - largely the brainchild of psychologist Ilze Ušacka and supported by Norwegian funds - is voluntary. Inmates seeking help will have to make their way through the fenced barbed wire corridor leading to the center on their own.

According to Ušacka, the sports hall is the most beautiful area of the new treatment center.

"It's necessary because addicts and inmates will be occupied with playing team sports. They won't be lifting weights and growing muscles like they're doing now, substituting one addiction for another, but [rather] they'll be playing basketball, volleyball, football, frisbee...

The idea is that mentors will play these team sports together with the inmates and learn [to cooperate]. It's part of the therapy," said Ušacka.

Teaching collaborative skills is one of the main principles of the new Addiction treatment center where drug dependency will be treated not with medicines but with therapy.

These principles were adopted from similar programs in Poland and Norway. Each of the stages of the program lasts for about four months, with the first focusing on psychological support and addiction awareness, while the second one teaches social skills and prepares inmates for life in freedom.

The efficiency of this therapy is hard to evaluate, however the head of the center said that in the countries which Latvia took as examples the results aren't very good as fighting addiction is difficult.

"If only a few of the thousands who are using these substances and are dangerous will return [to normal life], then we'll have taxpayers, we'll have happier families, and we'll feel safer on the street," said Ušacka.

The center can house up to 200 people. 

Ilona Spure, head of the Latvian Prison Administration, said that about 80 to 85% of prison inmates are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

"Our ambitions are quite great, but we also understand that we have set the bar high in the country, as the whole state is not tackling this problem on a scale which we have undertaken with our 200 spots. It's a new function of the Prison Administration," said Spure.

A total of 70 employees will be working with inmates in two shifts. They have undergone six months of training and includes both psychologists, and mentors – teachers, artists, lawyers – most of whom have never worked in the prison system. 

The treatment center will be unveiled officially on Wednesday with the first inmates slated to be admitted in late October.

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