Pilot Test of 12-Step Linkage for Alcohol-Abusing Women in Leaving Jail




Jennifer E. Johnson, Yael Chatav Schonbrun & Michael D. Stein

Substance Abuse

Volume 35, Issue 1, 2014

03 Mar 2014






Background: More than a million US women are detained in jails each year; many have alcohol use disorders (AUDs). AUD intervention with pretrial jail detainees presents a logistical challenge due to limited jail stays and lack of resources for postrelease treatment. The availability, no-cost entry, and promise of anonymity of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) make it a highly accessible resource for underserved populations. However, the outreach of AA volunteers into jails (as opposed to prisons) has been limited, and incarcerated women are unlikely to seek out strangers for help after release. This study pilot tested an enhanced referral approach introducing a 12-step volunteer to a woman in jail who would attend a meeting with her after release.

Methods: Participants were 14 unsentenced female pretrial jail detainees with AUD. Intervention consisted of introducing participants detained in jail to female AA volunteers who could accompany them to an AA meeting after release. Assessments took place at baseline and 1 month after release. This uncontrolled pilot study evaluated the feasibility and acceptability of this enhanced referral approach. Pre-post alcohol use, drug use, alcohol problems, and AA attendance are also reported.

Results: Enhanced referral was feasible and acceptable. Many (57%) of the 14 participants who met with AA volunteers in jail were in contact with those volunteers after release from jail. Participants had significantly fewer drinking days, heavy drinking days, alcohol problems, and drug-using days during the postrelease follow-up than they did before jail detention.

Conclusions: Providing linkage between women in jail and female AA volunteers who can accompany them to a postrelease meeting is achievable, and may be a disseminable and low-cost method to improve alcohol outcomes in this vulnerable population.