What is the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP)?

The RDAP, short for Residential Drug Abuse Program, is a rigorous treatment initiative for substance abuse facilitated by the federal Bureau of Prisons. Participants who are actively engaged in the program reside in a specialized therapeutic community, set apart from the main prison populace. They undergo substance abuse sessions for half the day, accumulating to 500 hours, which can lead to a reduction of up to one year from their prison term.

RDAP is completed when the incarcerated individual completes the 500-hour residential program at their facility and the Transitional Drug Abuse Treatment program, which lasts between four and six months while the incarcerated individual is re-entering society at the halfway-house or while on home confinement. Until both portions are completed, any prospective earned time credits are not officially applied.

Table of Contents

Our full guide on RDAP is published based on the personal experiences of our contributors (all of whom completed the RDAP program at USP Lewisburg or FPC Phoenix), official BOP RDAP policies and guides, and Scotty Carper’s “Comprehensive Guide to RDAP” which is based on his personal experience at USP Leavenworth. It’s quite long, so we provide this table of contents to make it easier to find the most popular subjects:

How Do I Know if I Am Eligible for RDAP?

RDAP eligibility can be quite specific. Most importantly, candidates must have a clear and documented history of substance abuse within the twelve-month period before their arrest for their current offense. This can be proven through pre-sentence reports, substance abuse treatment histories, or other credible documentation. Some judges, based on the information provided in the pre-sentence report, include substance abuse treatment at sentencing (though it should be noted the decision rests solely with the RDAP staff at your facility. A judge is simply making a recommendation).

Candidates must also be literate, a non-violent offender, have no detainers (including deportation/immigration detainers), and have no serious mental health issues which may prevent them from completing the program. Further, candidates must be housed in a BOP facility that offers RDAP (or be willing to transfer to one that does).

If a candidate meets all of these requirements, they must be within 48 months of release at which point a BOP staff member will review a person’s pre-sentence report and consider whether their history of substance abuse is a fit for the program. A person will be asked to interview, at which point the most important thing is to express a willingness to participate in the 500-hour, intense residential program.

Which Federal Prisons Offer RDAP?

Northeast Region

  • Allenwood – L (PA)
  • Allenwood – M (PA)
  • Canaan (PA)
  • Danbury (CT)
  • Danbury (CT)*
  • Elkton (OH)
  • Fairton (NJ)
  • Fort Dix 1(NJ)
  • Fort Dix 2(NJ)
  • Lewisburg (PA)
  • McKean (PA)
  • Schuylkill (PA)

Mid-Atlantic Region

  • Alderson (WV)*
  • Beckley (WV)
  • Big Sandy (KY)
  • Butner (NC)
  • Cumberland (MD)
  • Hazelton (WV) *
  • Lexington (KY)
  • Memphis (TN)
  • Morgantown 1 (WV)
  • Morgantown 2 (WV)
  • Petersburg – M (VA)
  • Petersburg – L (VA)

Southeast Region

  • Coleman – L (FL)
  • Edgefield (SC)
  • Jesup (GA)
  • Marianna (FL)
  • Miami (FL) – (Spanish)
  • Montgomery (AL)
  • Pensacola (FL)
  • Talladega (AL)
  • Tallahassee (FL)*
  • Yazoo City (MS)

North Central Region

  • Duluth (MN)
  • Englewood (CO)
  • Florence (CO)
  • Florence (CO)
  • Greenville (IL)*
  • Leavenworth (KS)
  • Marion (IL)
  • Milan (MI)
  • Oxford (WI)
  • Pekin (IL)
  • Sandstone (MN)
  • Springfield (MO)+
  • Terre Haute (IN)
  • Waseca (MN)*
  • Yankton (SD)

South Central Region

  • Bastrop (TX)
  • Beaumont – L (TX)
  • Beaumont – M (TX)
  • Bryan (TX)*
  • Carswell (TX)*+
  • El Reno (OK)
  • Fort Worth 1 (TX)
  • Fort Worth 2 (TX)
  • Forrest City (AR)
  • La Tuna (TX)
  • Seagoville 1 (TX)
  • Seagoville 2 (TX)
  • Texarkana (TX)

Western Region

  • Dublin (CA)*
  • Herlong (CA)
  • Lompoc (CA)
  • Phoenix (AZ)
  • Phoenix (AZ)*
  • Sheridan (OR)
  • Terminal Island (CA)

* = Female Facility

This list was updated in September 2023. To review for changes, check the official BOP list of institutions that offer RDAP.

Can a Person Fail RDAP?

Yes, and it happens with some regularity. The RDAP program is one with many rules and regulations, and there are consequences for failing to comply. In most cases, individuals will be given at least one written warning and receive a therapeutic intervention before being removed from the program. Instances where you are not given that opportunity include things like drinking, smoking, fighting, attempted escape, or breaking confidentiality in the RDAP program, all things which may also risk landing an inmate in the SHU.

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Can a Person Re-Apply for RDAP After Being Kicked Out, Having Failed, or Withdrawn?

Yes, after a 90 day waiting period. A person who left during the program will have to start over from the beginning.

How Much Time Will I Get Off My Sentence for Completing RDAP?

In addition to providing key lifestyle changes that will improve your chances for success after prison, program staff can approve a time credits in any amount up to twelve months. Generally, program staff follows a grid that is based on the length of sentence:

  • 24 to 30 month sentence may receive a 6-month reduction.
  • 31 to 36 month sentence may receive a 9-month reduction.
  • A person sentenced to 37 months or greater may receive a 12-month reduction.

For examples of how RDAP can impact a person’s sentence calculation, read our guide on sentence calculation.

Other Drug Treatment Programs in the BOP

For those who are not interested (or eligible) for RDAP, there are other treatment programs available in the BOP:

  • Non-Residential Drug Abuse Treatment Program (NRDAP): A voluntary 10 to 24-week program provided at all institutions which involves group counseling for substance abuse.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous: Non-residential programs which mirror those provided outside of institutions.

RDAP Structure

The first thing to know about programming, a key element that the Drug Treatment Specialist and other RDAP staff will continuously remind you of: programming is 24/7 and is not limited to weekday programming hours. What they mean by this is the Modern Therapeutic Community is immersive, not simply something that you attend for a few hours each day.

What is a Modern Therapeutic Community?

The Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP) in the Bureau of Prisons represents a modern therapeutic community (TC). As a progressive treatment model, RDAP integrates the core principles of modern TCs, focusing on fostering recovery through a blend of social learning, group therapy, and various therapeutic techniques.

As the NIH describes in its summary of Modern Therapeutic Communities, a core component to any Modern TC (and, subsequently, RDAP) is the “community as a method” approach to substance abuse programming. “Community as a method” is designed to cultivate connectedness, identity, meaning, and empowerment among participants. This approach is rooted in the understanding that building social and community capital is essential for sustainable recovery and rehabilitation.

It’s crucial to understand this does not just mean fostering an environment of support but also leaning on the power of the community to handle violations of program rules and norms. This collective governing model means the participants in the group determine the type and extent of punishments for violations of program rules and norms. For serious violations, especially against the integrity of the group, can mean expulsion from the community. As our Drug Treatment Specialists would always say, “this is your community,” which makes the program both easier and more challenging in different ways.

RDAP Rules & Norms

There are many rules and norms that are critical to success in the program, though they are generally specific to the location and specific goals of each individual program. For example, one of our contributors completed a program where participants were required to address eachother as “Mr. [last name]” and if a participant used a first name or nickname, it was considered an offense where someone could be written up and made to do extra chores around the building. Another one of our contributors did not have such a requirement.

But across all former participants we spoke with, these are the universal truths:

  • Confidentiality. This is the biggest rule in the program. It’s considered critical because confidentiality is the only way participants can open up and be truly vulnerable in a small group setting.
  • Professionalism and Punctuality. Program staff insist on mutual respect which is demonstrated most in the way participants treat each other, including things like punctuality.
  • Appearance. It’s considered paramount participants and the RDAP building (which is its own residential space) maintain a clean, orderly appearance. This is partially informed by the “act as if” principle: if you are maintaining a neat appearance, you’re more likely to behave in a neat way. The RDAP residential building has rules that do not apply to other areas of the institution including but not limited to: participants cannot lay down during the day, beds must be perfectly made and pass inspection, nothing can be on top of your locker or not “put away,” and you must maintain compliance with things like limitations on number of pillows and clothing.
  • No Negativity. Maintaining a positive and supportive mindset is important to enable success in a therapeutic environment.
  • Effective Communication. The program will help you identify the times in your life when you’ve been a passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive communicator, and understand how that has negatively impacted your life. It will equip you with the tools to be an effective, assertive communicator and challenge you throughout the program to practice that ability.
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Core Terms & Concepts

There are several core terms and concepts which work together to build the foundation for positive change. Former participants in the program came up with these four, which we consider the most important concepts in the program:

The Components of a Balanced Lifestyle

  • Meaning and Purpose.
  • Healthy Eating.
  • Physical Activity.
  • Sleep.

8 Attitudes for Change

Success in the program begins with the right mindset to embrace change which the program calls the 8 Attitudes for Change or 8 Positive Attitudes. No one who enters the program shows up completely ready to embrace all eight, and it’s typical for people to struggle with each one at one point or another throughout the program. The 8 Positive Attitudes are as follows:

  • Caring. Are you supporting the people around you?
  • Responsibility. Are you taking ownership and able to focus on your own role in the circumstances rather than looking for someone to blame?
  • Open-Mindedness. Are you willing to accept feedback about your behavior, and open to the idea that you (likely) have to change the way you approach life and those around you?
  • Willingness. Are you waking up every day and putting in the work necessary for recovery?
  • Honesty. Are you being honest with the people around you – and more importantly, with yourself?
  • Humility. Do you accept and understand that your community and the people around you matter, too?
  • Objectivity. Are you avoiding bias, and looking at things through a clear lens? This is closely tied to the “camera checks” discussed in our RDAP study guide.
  • Gratitude. Do you understand this opportunity to change is a beautiful thing, and do you express gratitude for that opportunity? Are you able to express gratitude to your friends, family, and support system?

Many people refer to these as “CROWHHOG,” an acronym designed to help you remember those attitudes.

Rational Thinking

An important point in treatment is exploring when and how irrational thinking creeps into each of our daily lives, how to identify those moments, and what to do when we recognize irrational thinking in our own behavior. This section helps provide the tools to become a rational thinker – or as many in the program say, how to “slow down your thinking.”

This begins with a process called “the ABCs of Rational Thinking:”

  • Activating event. Identifying and isolating the event that triggered an emotional reaction. This can often be something that someone says or does.
  • Beliefs. How did you interpret the event? If somebody made a sarcastic remark, how did you interpret those words?
  • Consequences. What happened as a result of your beliefs? What were the feelings you experienced, the actions you took, and the outcome of those actions? If a person made you feel attacked, did it upset you and cause you to lash out or respond in a way you wish you hadn’t?

The purpose of the exercise is to cause you to be objective about the things that cause you to react poorly. Generally, most people find that if they slow down in the Beliefs stage, they can become a more rational thinker which leads to better results.

8 Common Thinking Errors

Many RDAP graduates feel they benefitted most from identifying the common thinking errors. These are behaviors many of us engage in every day, often because we’ve been conditioned to do so. By identifying them, we can evaluate how they impact the choices we make every day. The 8 common thinking errors are as follows:

  • Blaming. When confronted with something that happened, do you point to circumstances or to other people and blame them? This is about taking ownership.
  • Absolutes. Do you use language that prevents you from being objective, like declaring something is “the best” and refusing to entertain any other perspective or opinion? This is closely tied to open-mindedness.
  • Demands. Do you present your “wants” as “needs” and insist they be a certain way? This type of thinking is a direct path to increased agitation and negative consequences. This is closely tied to humility and the criminal thinking error of power orientation.
  • Loaded Words. Do you leverage word choice to make things more extreme or intense than they need to be?
  • I Can’t. Do you write off a situation, assuming you’re unable to achieve or tolerate something simply because it makes you uncomfortable? This ties in with demands and absolutes.
  • Awfulizing. Do you focus on the bad or negative parts of a situation and totally ignore the good that can come from a situation?
  • Rhetorical Questions. Do you attempt to manipulate by asking questions without expecting an answer, in order to make others feel uncomfortable?
  • Statement of Fact. Do you make assumptions without consideration of the whole picture, and present them as fact? This is closely tied to objectivity.
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Many refer to these common thinking errors as “BADLIARS,” an acronym designed to help you remember these thinking errors.

8 Criminal Thinking Errors

Similar to the common thinking errors, the program discusses the criminal thinking errors that can be problematic not only in life but also as it relates to substance abuse. The eight criminal thinking errors are as follows:

  • Mollification. Do you make excuses or justify your negative behavior because of something you’ve done to “make it right?” Many who engaged in white collar crime have struggled with this thinking error. For example, someone who engaged in fraud may have justified their criminal activity because they were providing for their family or ensuring their employees kept their jobs.
  • Cutoff. Do you ignore or dismiss people without letting them be heard?
  • Entitlement. Do you feel you’re special or that your circumstances are different?
  • Power Orientation. Do you seek to assert your dominance in conversations as a way of inflating your own stature in a group or community?
  • Sentimentality. Do you engage in false empathy or kindness which is only to make yourself look good?
  • Superoptimism. Do you look at things in an over-confident way, believing you can navigate any situation and ignoring the potential consequences of your actions?
  • Cognitive Indolence. Do you take the easy way out or path of least resistance? This is commonly referred to as lazy thinking.
  • Discontinuity. Are you easily sidetracked to the point where you do not follow through with the commitments you make to those around you?

Other Important Concepts

There are many others including concepts like “Acting As If,” “Change Language,” and attitude checks which we detail in our RDAP study guide.

Daily Life in the BOP Residential Drug Abuse Program

Most programs operate on weekdays between the hours of 7:00 AM and 10:30 AM, though each program decides how to schedule programming segments based on the needs of the program and staff considerations.

Programming Segments

  • Community Meeting. Sometimes referred to as “community meeting.” This is typically the first hour of the programming day and it may (depending on the program) include participant presentations of things like news headlines and weather, sports scores, community announcements, and activities. Every program includes two components:
    • Pull-Ups. This is a process through which one community member calls out another community member for a violation of RDAP rules and norms, community standards, or because they are failing in their treatment. A pull-up form is designed to provide guardrails for constructive feedback so the person who is being pulled up can be aware of their error and improve.
    • Positive Praise. This is a process through which one community member highlights another community member for their positive contributions to the community or their progress in treatment.
  • Module. The program is divided into three, 3-month segments called “phases.” Each phase has its own module group so participants can discuss the major themes of the book work.
  • Small Group. The entire program is divided into smaller groups, usually of 20-30 participants, designed to put people who are at the various stages of the program together so they can help eachother in a group therapy-style session.
  • Committees. Also known as “community service.” The operation of the program and upkeep of the building are responsibilities largely entrusted to the participants in the program, and those are maintained through committees. There is a committee responsible for doing the morning inspection of everyone’s bunk, for example, and another which tracks participation in the community meeting.

Additional Resources & Further Reading