Drug and Alcohol Abuse Treatment and Addiction Recovery in the Criminal System

Drug and Alcohol Abuse Treatment and Addiction Recovery in the Criminal System

It’s not a shock to anyone that there is a direct correlation between being in the correction system and drug use. Once an inpidual is in the jail system, he or she may be pressured into participating in substance abuse treatment by the legal system. This pressure, though undesirable to the user, may be just what he or she needs to start the change towards sobriety.

How Bad is The Drug Addiction Problem?

In 2002, a study that was conducted found that 52% of women in jail and 44% of men met the criteria for drug or alcohol dependence. Even with such high numbers, only about one fifth of inpiduals needing drug rehabilitation actually received it according to a 1997 study.

Drug abuse is related to at least three different types of illegal offenses which include the following:

  1. Incarceration due to selling drugs or having drugs in one's possession.
  2. Stealing or causing harm to others in order to support drug use.
  3. A lifestyle which is conducive to spending time around inpiduals in the drug scene which can lead to crime and consequently incarceration.


Has Substance Abuse Treatment Been Shown to Work in Jails?

Yes. Substance abuse treatment in the jail system does work and not only with the inpidual’s drug problem. Research conducted since the 1970’s has shown a positive correlation between drug abuse treatment and positive changes in inmates. These changes encompass the following:

  • Changes in behaviors
  • Attitudes
  • Beliefs towards substance abuse and crime


What is the Financial Benefit of Substance Abuse Treatment to the Community at Large?

Continued drug abuse has many detrimental effects for the community including continued violence and crime related to drug use. This includes a financial burden in the form of court costs, hospital bills- both for the users and the people affected by drug related violence. Unresolved drug use also leads to costs related to child abuse and neglect, welfare costs, foster care, unemployment, and generally reduced productivity on the part of the user which costs the community unnecessary expenses. In 2002, drug abuse cost the community $181 billion. Out of this number, $107 billion was related to drug related crime.

Substance Abuse Treatment and Disease?

Well, substance abuse in itself is considered an illness by many, so treatment can already be helpful in that one particular. In addition, there is the issue of infectious illness. Drug abuse treatment can help reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, as well as the entire battery of other sexually transmitted illnesses. Money spent on drug abuse treatment has been found to reduce the cost of drug related crimes by $4 to $7 dollars for every dollar spent on treatment. It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that there is more of a benefit to spending money on drug treatment than not.

What Kind of Treatment Works for the Substance Abuse Population?

A review of the research conducted on treatment for the substance abuse population, led to a list of guidelines which were released by NIDA in 2006. These principles were based on the following statistics:

  • Criminal behavior can be reduced up to 80 % with treatment
  • Arrests can be reduced by up to 64% with treatment.
  • The guidelines for drug abuse treatment as per NIDA are as follows:
  • Recovery from drug addiction requires effective treatment, followed by management of the problem over time.
  • Drug addiction is a brain disease that affects behavior
  • Treatment must last long enough to produce stable behavioral change.
  • Assessment is the first step in treatment.
  • Tailoring services to fit the needs of the inpidual is an important part of effective drug abuse treatment for criminal justice populations.
  • Drug use during treatment should be carefully monitored.
  • Treatment should target factors that are associated with criminal behavior.
  • Criminal justice supervision should incorporate treatment planning for drug abusing offenders, and treatment providers should be aware of correctional supervision requirements.
  • Continuity of care is essential for drug abusers re-entering the community.
  • A balance of rewards and sanctions encourages prosocial behavior and treatment participation.
  • Offenders with co-occurring drug abuse and mental health problems often require an integrated treatment approach.
  • Medications are an important part of treatment for many drug abusing offenders.
  • Treatment planning for drug abusing offenders who are living in or re-entering the community should include strategies to prevent and treat serious, chronic medical conditions, such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, and tuberculosis.
  • **taken from the following http://www.drugabuse.gov/PODAT_CJ/principles/**


Effective Treatment for Criminal Offenders

So, what type of treatment works? Well, substance abuse treatment can be incorporated into the criminal system in a variety of different ways. The best way perhaps, is to incorporate intensive treatment while serving jail time followed by continued care when the offender is introduced into society. Continued care, more than any other component could be the reason why an inpidual stays clean.

One must remember that drug use is a learned behavior. In order for it to dissipate it must be unlearned and new, positive behaviors must be instituted and followed. Though a substance abuse treatment program like this may seem like a lot of effort, the results can be life changing not just for the person obtaining treatment but for community at large. So, in effect treatment in the criminal system can benefit everyone.

Rachel Hayon, MPH, RN

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Principles of Drug Abuse Treatment: A Research-Based Guide. National Institutes of Health Publication No. 00-4180. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 1999

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. The National Treatment Improvement Evaluation Study (NTIES). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Publication No. SMA-97-3156. 1997
www.ojp.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/ppus03.pdf). Accessed 8 September 2008.
Karberg & James, 2005, www.ojp.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/sdatji02.pdf. Accessed 9 September 2008
National Institute of Justice, 2003, www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/adam/welcome.html. Accessed 8 September 2008.
Mumola, 1999, www.ojp.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/satsfp97.pdf). Accessed 9 Septembe

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