Five facts: Addiction and criminal justice | CASAColumbia

Five facts: Addiction and criminal justice

Five facts: Addiction and criminal justice

There’s no denying that substance use and addiction is rampant in our justice system. As of 2005, this health problem was involved in the crimes of 1.9 million inmates -- 85% of the U.S. prison and jail population. That number is staggering. Here are five facts that you need to know about the relationship between substance use and addiction and criminal justice.

  • CASAColumbia’s research found that 1.5 million (65%) of the 2.3 million inmates incarcerated in our prisons and jails met medical criteria for addiction.  Nearly half a million additional inmates, while not addicted, were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of their crime; committed their offense to get money to buy drugs; were incarcerated for an alcohol or other drug law violation; or shared some combination of these characteristics.
  • Addiction is a problem amongst adolescent offenders, too.  Four of every five (78%) 10- to 17-year olds who are in juvenile justice systems are substance involved.  More than half of juvenile or youthful offenders incarcerated in state prisons and local jails meet medical criteria for addiction involving alcohol or other drugs.
  • Compared to non-substance involved inmates, substance-involved inmates are likelier to be re-incarcerated, begin their criminal careers at an early age and have more contact with the criminal justice system.
  • Most inmates who need treatment don’t receive it. While researching our second study of substance use and America’s prison population, Behind Bars II, we found that only 11% of all inmates with addiction receive any treatment during their incarceration. 
  • If all inmates who needed treatment and aftercare received such services and a mere 10% remained substance and crime free, our nation would reap an economic benefit of $90,953 per year for each inmate who remained sober, employed and crime free.

The time for change is now. Prisons must employ trained health care professionals to screen, assess and treat these offenders and provide care for co-occurring physical and mental health problems. For more information on how we can improve addiction treatment in America’s prisons, check out Behind Bars II: Substance Abuse and America's Prison Population.



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