Approximately 7.1 million adults in the United States are under a form of criminal justice supervision. It is estimated that half of all prisoners meet the criteria to be diagnosed with drug abuse or dependence, but less than 20% of inmates who suffer from addiction receive formal treatment. Involvement in the criminal justice system often is a result of illegal activities that in some aspect reflect disrupted behavior caused by brain changes triggered by repeated drug use. Implementing treatment for addiction in the criminal justice system could improve public health by reducing addiction and reduce criminal behavior.
Treatment for drug abusers in the criminal justice system would help those who otherwise would not receive it, decreasing their rates of reincarceration and relapse. Following long periods of drug abstinence during incarceration, many drug-addicted people relapse when they are re-exposed to drug cues which highlights the need for ongoing treatment after release. Individuals who participated in prison-based treatment followed by a community-based program after release were 7 times more likely to be drug free and 3 times less likely to be re-arrested for criminal behavior than those not receiving treatment. Although treatment during and after incarceration has shown to significantly reduce drug use and reincarceration, less than 20% of inmates receive formal treatment.
The average percentage of offenders who had access to treatment services is less than 10%. One could argue that those who are incarcerated do not deserve treatment. However, there is no other illness that can get you arrested for having symptoms; but it is impossible to be addicted to illegal drugs without breaking the law. It is not fair to punish someone for the symptoms of their disease. In order to reduce crime rate and addiction, implementing treatment into the criminal justice system is essential.
Drug addiction remains a stigmatized disease that is often not seen as a medical condition by the criminal justice system, consequently treatment is not guaranteed though other medical conditions are. In order for crime rate to decrease, addiction treatment must be accessible and given to those affected in the criminal justice system. Integrating treatment into the criminal justice system will decrease addiction, improve public health, and reduce reincarceration.
Chandler et al., JAMA., 2009.