Choosing Substance Abuse Treatment Over Prison Could Save Billions: Study

Sending substance-abusing state prisoners to community-based treatment programs instead of prisons could reduce crime and save billions of dollars, a new study concludes. The savings would result from immediate reductions in the cost of incarceration, and by subsequent reductions in the number of crimes committed by successfully treated offenders, which leads to fewer re-arrests and re-incarcerations, according to the researchers.

Almost half of all state prisoners abuse drugs or are drug-dependent, but only 10 percent received medically based drug treatment while they are incarcerated, according to Newswise. Inmates who are untreated or not adequately treated are more likely to start using drugs when they are released from prison, and commit crimes at a higher rate than those who do not abuse drugs, the article notes.

The researchers built a simulation model of 1.14 million state prisoners, representing the 2004 U.S. state prison population. The model estimated the benefits of substance abuse treatment over individuals’ lifetimes, and calculated the crime and criminal justice costs related to policing, trial and sentencing, and incarceration.

The model tracked individuals’ substance abuse, criminal activity, employment and health care use until death or until they reached age 60, whichever came first. They estimated the costs of sending 10 percent or 40 percent of drug-abusing inmates to community-based substance abuse treatment instead of prison.

In the journal Crime & Delinquency, the researchers found that if just 10 percent of eligible offenders were treated in community-based programs instead of going to prison, the criminal justice system would save $4.8 billion, compared with current practices. If 40 percent of eligible offenders received treatment, the savings would total $12.9 billion.

4 Responses to Choosing Substance Abuse Treatment Over Prison Could Save Billions: Study

  1. Gail Chmielewski | January 10, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    The first thing I thought of when I read the title of this study was a treatment term by Albert Ellis “prescribe the ridiculous”. That a study really had to go on to prove this fact is ridiculous!Talk about a waste of money. Treatment professiionals have known this for decades! The “study” that really cracked me up was the one with the conclusion that AA is based in Spirituality. Anyone attending 12 step meetings could have come to that conclusion after the first meeting or reading the AA text.

  2. Rebecca Smith | January 11, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Yes, but studies prove to politicians that it’s ok to start legislation that would require treatmen,t rather than immediate incarceration (i.e., diversion progrms.). The deeper issue is making sure the right kind of treatment, and accountability afterwards, is set up…at least a years worth.

  3. Dave Finch | January 11, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    This study is useful for its quantification of the potential savings we could capture by abandoning our criminal punishment system. The problem would still exist of many drug users continuing to patronize illicit dealers. If these same inmates and potential inmates where given the option to join in a program in which legally manufactured drugs could be acquired through an organization that also supplied regular counseling we could increase recovery outcomes while allowing market forces to dry up the black markets.

  4. P Hall | January 12, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    We spend much more in funding for research that keeps giving the same answers than we do for treatment. Methadone treatment has been proven over and over again by research to work but it is a constant fight to keep clinics open and there is next to nothing to pay for treatment. So when we had increases in unemployment and no help for treatment, guess what patients did???
    In Georgia, a legislator told me that his constituents wanted addicts LOCKED up…not treated! Now Georgia has realized that they can not afford to lock all the addicts up that break the law and may have to offer treatment. Let’s see…$40,000 per year to warehouse addicts or pay $6000 a year for treatment??? NO BRAINER!

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