Lack Of Substance Abuse Treatment Options For Offenders

Armen Hareyan's picture

Alcohol Treatment Services

Substance abuse treatment services for offenders are not widely available in all phases of the correctional system, according to the first set of findings from a national survey funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The National Criminal Justice Treatment Practices Survey (NCJTPS) provides a picture of existing treatment programs across all correctional settings, including prison, jails, probation and parole offices, and local community correction agencies for juvenile and adult offenders. The survey findings, published in a special issue of the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, question the capability of the adult and/or juvenile correctional system to effectively address drug abuse and associated criminal behavior among offenders.

The offender population is at greater risk than the general population to have a substance abuse disorder, and it is widely shown that such disorders influence criminal behaviors. As a result, substance abuse treatment for offenders has been part of the national strategy to not only reduce the demand for drugs, but also reduce drug-related crime for over 10 years. However, the survey found that of the nearly eight million adults and 700,000 juveniles involved in the justice system, access to treatment services is minimal with less than 10 percent of offenders receiving the treatment that they need.


"The survey shows that far too few programs and services exist, and the ones that do exist are only offered to a handful of offenders," said NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. "Since offenders are four times as likely as the general population to have a substance abuse disorder, treating the offender population could measurably lower the demand for drugs in our society, and reduce the crime rate."

Studies show that treatment cuts drug abuse in half, drastically decreases criminal activity, and significantly reduces arrests. It is estimated that for every dollar spent on addiction treatment programs, there is a $4 to $7 reduction in the cost of drug-related crimes.

The NCJTP survey illustrates multiple systemic, organizational, and infrastructural barriers to the successful evidence-based addiction treatment approaches described in NIDA's Principles of Drug Abuse Treatment for Criminal Justice Populations: A Research Based Guide (NIDA, 2006).

"This survey can be used to assist policy makers and program officials in plotting a course to implement more effective services and delivery systems for the offender population," said study director Dr. Faye Taxman of Virginia Commonwealth University. She noted that the papers in the series will help integrate research into practice for the goal of reducing recidivism among substance abusing offenders. Such strategies include: