Substance Abuse Treatment Crucial for Former Inmates
> 3/20/2008 1:06:10 PM

The most important issue for recently released inmates seeking to avoid future incarceration may not be housing or employment opportunities but a lack of treatment programs to address the substance abuse that landed so many of them in prison in the first place.

Drug use bears more of the blame for our inflated incarceration rates than any other factor, especially when one considers crimes committed under the influence and crimes committed in order to acquire the money to procure drugs. Statistics on the last two variables are difficult to determine, but the general numbers are quite persuasive. In 2004, the overall number of inmates serving time in American correctional facilities for drug offenses was higher than those in jail for murder, robbery, assault, rape and every other charge other than the inclusive "property offenses" category (burglary, larceny, vehicle theft, arson). Drug use is also the most prominent cause of recidivism. The progression is quite simple: a former addict, incarcerated for crimes either directly related to or prompted by substance abuse, is released with no real prospect for gainful employment. Eventually, if not immediately, he or she returns to the same substance that set the process in motion in the first place. The inmate inevitably commits further crime in order to support said habit and will, with time, be caught and most likely incarcerated again.

Extensive economic analysis has determined that treatment, while expensive, will ultimately save taxpayer money by actively reducing the number of affected inmates who actually return to prison. And as we've mentioned before, treating them is still more affordable than housing them in state or federal institutions. Providing treatment while an individual is still incarcerated also significantly reduces recidivism rates. Simply put, inmates should receive drug abuse treatment both before and after their release. Some taxpayers will obviously balk at this conclusion, in light of the understandable belief that state-sponsored treatment programs amount to the coddling of potentially dangerous criminals, but the approach will inevitably save money and reduce crime rates.

A 1999 study involving nearly 500 inmates in a San Diego state prison found dramatic results: the recidivism rates for those involved in treatment and aftercare was 27% while the same rates for their untreated peers was a whopping 75%. The statistical gaps will not always be so significant, but studies like this one give us an idea of the programs' potential benefits. And an additional follow-up survey combining the results of similar studies in California, Texas and Delaware came to an identical conclusion: the difference in the recidivism ratios of untreated and treated patients was, again, 3 to 1.

A more recent survey of men serving repeat sentences in an urban prison system who were also involved in drug treatment programs found all of them reporting post-release relapse. A large majority also named addiction as the underlying reason for their criminality. Drug abuse was the most commonly cited barrier to re-entry, more prominent than housing, employment, and financial troubles. The daunting prospect of life outside prison may be enough to prompt relapse in one who's known a life of crime, and most of the prisoners who went back to drugs did so before they even began looking for work. All subjects reported finding institutional treatment programs helpful, but none were particularly confident about post-prison rehab connections. The concept of offering "free" treatment to inmates attempting to rejoin the civilian population may, again, seem undesirable to some, but such services will ultimately reduce the number of innocent parties who fall victim to the endless array of crimes spurred by substance abuse. The prison system needs to work together with substance abuse treatment providers in designing mandatory rehab programs for recent parolees. If left to their own devices and forbidden free access to this crucial re-integration tool, most will return to drugs and the crimes that they facilitated. That result is not attractive to anyone.


The 1999 study was actually done on our project- Amity Foundation - it was a study done by NIDA at the RJD Correctional facility. Another interesting fact is that the 27% that did return, they returned for less violent crimes or parole violations for petty offenses.The Therapeutic Community model has shown to be more effective in treating serious drug addiction, criminality, and alcoholism. Not only because it's long-term, but also because the structure allows for 'whole person education' and community responsibilities that mirror everyday life. Vocational, literacy, and life skills are woven into the curriculum which, when combined, really increase the chances of them never getting arrested again.
Posted by: Michelle 4/2/2008 1:43:48 AM

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