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Substance Abuse Treatment

Within available resources, the Department of Corrections will provide a multi-phased treatment continuum of programs for incarcerated individuals with substance use disorders.


According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration substance use disorders occur when the recurrent use of alcohol and/or drugs causes clinically and functionally significant impairment, such as health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home. The treatment system for substance use disorders is comprised of multiple service components.

Drug offenses and property crimes are the most common felony crime types committed by individuals currently under the jurisdiction of the DOC who are diagnosed with a substance use disorder. Substance use disorders that remain untreated lead to the continuous cycle of homelessness and poverty, as well as a heightened need for mental health treatment, emergency room visits, and in many cases, the eventual return to prison.

The Department of Corrections (DOC) Substance Abuse Recovery Unit (SARU) is one of the largest certified treatment agencies in the State of Washington, with services in 25 state-certified facilities located within prisons and reentry centers. SARU treatment services provide a specialized focus on correcting criminal thinking errors, relapse prevention and management, and gender-specific trauma based therapy.

What the Research Says

The Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) found that incarcerated individuals who participate in substance abuse treatment programs have lower recidivism rates than those who did not participate by 4 to 9 percent.

With these avoided crimes, there is a monetary savings to the state. In a 2017 studyAdobe PDF document file, WSIPP found that for each dollar spent on drug treatment in confinement and partial confinement there is a taxpayer benefit from $5.05 to $13.91 for each dollar spent (depending on level of care and sentencing type).

Treatment Services

Consistent with research, evidence-based as well as promising and best practices, the Substance Abuse Recovery Unit (SARU) offers a comprehensive continuum of intensive outpatient, intensive day treatment, and residential treatment services.

Treatment Eligibility

Individuals found to have substance use disorders are assessed and referred for treatment services in the following priority:

  • Sentenced to a Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA), or Family and Offender Sentencing Alternative (FOSA), or Indeterminate Sentence Review Board (ISRB)
  • Pregnant and postpartum women
  • HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C positive
  • Have been/are intravenous drug users
  • High Violent and High Non-Violent
  • Diagnosed with a substance use disorder determined to be in need of services

Treatment Types

Treatment services are provided, within available resources, to incarcerated individuals who meet the established eligibility criteria based upon clinical need and sentencing requirements, and follow a triage protocol. Treatment services at the Department include:

  • Therapeutic Community (TC) – The most intensive form of treatment available within DOC prison facilities and community settings. TC provides a separate living area and a highly structured environment.
  • Intensive Inpatient (IIP) – Highly structured residential treatment that is delivered by a DOC contract provider specifically designed for DOC individuals in need of treatment
  • Intensive Day Treatment (IDT) – Highly structured residential treatment that is delivered by a DOC contract provider specifically designed for DOC individuals in need of treatment. IDT is designed to deliver treatment to individuals with needs greater than IOP but don't meet TC admission criteria.
  • Intensive Outpatient (IOP) – Similar to IDT, IOP meets four days a week, but for nine hours per week for 12 weeks, and is intended for individuals who will benefit from our least intensive primary level of care.
  • Outpatient (OP) – Individuals completing prison-based treatment and entering a reentry center are transitioned to an OP program. The duration of OP care is a minimum of three months and frequency of care is twice weekly.



Below are Department of Corrections (DOC) publications that apply to Substance Abuse Recovery Unit.


Fact Sheets

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