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Addiction Treatment in Prison Will Reduce Crime, Save Billions of Taxdollars, Says CASA Report


January 1998

Drug and alcohol treatment in prison will save billions of dollars and significantly reduce crime, according to a 281-page report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University released on January 8 (The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, Columbia University, "Behind Bars: Substance Abuse and America's Prison Population," January 1998; Christopher Wren, "Alcohol or Drug Link Seen in 80% of Jailings," New York Times, January 9, 1998, p. A11; Ronald J. Ostrow, "Drugs, Alcohol Linked to 80% of Those Behind Bars," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), January 9, 1998, p. A5; Darlene Superville, "Drugs, alcohol cited for 80% of inmates," Philadelphia Inquirer, January 9, 1998, p. A6).

Behind Bars: Substance Abuse and America's Prison Population says that the huge increase in America's prison population is due overwhelmingly to crimes related to drug and alcohol abuse. Between 1980 and 1996, the number of inmates in state, federal and local prisons tripled, from 500,000 to 1.7 million. The study says that drug and alcohol abuse and addiction are implicated in the incarceration of 80% (1.4 million) of the 1.7 million men and women currently behind bars, including parents of 2.4 million children. This 80% represents those who violated drug or alcohol laws, were intoxicated at the time they committed their crimes, stole property to buy drugs, or are "regular drug users."* Currently, 1 of every 144 American adults, 1 out of every 60 men, 1 out of every 14 black men, and 1 out of every 34 Hispanic men is incarcerated for an alcohol- or drug-related crime.

In a foreword, Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA president and former Sec. of Health, Education and Welfare under President Carter, said: "Failure to use the criminal justice system to get nonviolent drug- and alcohol-abusing offenders into treatment and training is irrational public policy and a profligate use of public funds. ... Releasing drug-addicted inmates without treatment helps maintain the market for illegal drugs and support drug dealers."

CASA found that $30 billion of the $38 billion dollars spent in 1996 to build and operate the nation's prisons and jails was spent to incarcerate substance-involved offenders. According to CASA, by the year 2000 (if current trends continue), the nation will pass the $100-million-a-day milestone in payments for incarcerating such offenders. Between 1995 and 1996, state corrections budgets represented the most rapidly growing expense for all states.

The CASA study estimates that it would take approximately $6,500 per year, in addition to usual incarceration costs, to provide an inmate with comprehensive residential treatment. For each offender who successfully completes treatment and returns to the community as a sober citizen with a job, CASA estimated that an economic benefit of $68,800 in reduced crime, arrest, prosecution and incarceration costs, health care savings, and potential earnings will accrue during the first year after release. According to CASA, "If only 10% of [inmates who are drug and alcohol abusers and addicts] ... are successfully treated and trained, the economic benefit in the first year of work after release would be $8.6 billion. That is a surplus of $456 million over the $7.8 billion treatment and training costs for all 1.2 million inmates." According to the report, "Estimates [based on self-reporting] of property and violent crimes committed by active drug addicts range from 89 to 191 per year [per addict]. On a conservative assumption of 100 crimes per year [per addict], for each 10,000 drug-addicted inmates who after release stay off drugs and crime, the nation will experience a reduction of one million crimes a year."

Inmates who are alcohol and drug abusers and addicts are the most likely to be reincarcerated, and the length of sentences increases for repeat offenders. In state prisons, 41% of first offenders have used drugs regularly compared to 63% of inmates with two prior convictions and 81% of inmates with five or more prior convictions. 50% of state parole and probation violators were under the influence of drugs, alcohol or both when they committed their new offense.

According to the report, regular drug users are twice as likely to have parents who abused drugs and alcohol than inmates who are not regular drug users, and are more likely than the general inmate population to have a family member who served prison time. Fifteen percent of those in state prison and 20% in jail have been physically and sexually abused. More than 40% of female state and local inmates have been victims of physical and sexual abuse.


"Contrary to conventional wisdom and popular myth, alcohol is more tightly linked with more violent crimes than crack, cocaine, heroin or any other illegal drug. In state prisons, 21% of inmates in prison for violent crimes were under the influence of alcohol -- and no other substance -- when they committed their crime; in contrast, at the time of their crimes, only 3% of violent offenders were under the influence of cocaine or crack alone, only 1% under the influence of heroin alone," wrote Califano. Alcohol is a bigger factor in connection with murder, rape, assault and child and spouse abuse than any illegal drug, according to the report. Violent crimes among jail inmates are also more closely linked to alcohol than to any other drug. The leading substance abuse crime in the U.S. is drunk driving, accounting for 1.4 million arrests in 1995 at a cost of $5.2 billion for arrests and prosecutions.


The report concludes that in state and federal prisons, the gap between available substance abuse treatment and the need for such treatment is enormous and widening. State officials estimate that 70 to 85% of inmates need some level of substance abuse treatment. But in 1996, only 13% of state inmates received any treatment, and much of that treatment was inadequate. "From 1993 to 1996, as the number of inmates needing substance abuse treatment climbed from 688,000 to 840,000, the number of inmates in treatment hovered around 150,000. ... From 1995 to 1996, the number of inmates in treatment decreased as the number in need of treatment rose," Califano said. Many of these substance-abusing prisoners will be released in 18 months to four years on average, he said.


The report recommends getting rid of mandatory sentences with no chance of parole for nonviolent offenders. Califano wrote, "For treatable alcohol and drug abusers, mandatory sentences (particularly those which require convicts to serve their entire time in prison with no parole) endanger rather than protect the public safety."

The study concludes that many prisoners can be rehabilitated with prison-based treatment programs, literacy training, and community-based aftercare services, including assistance with housing, education, employment and medical care. To cut taxpayer costs and reduce recidivism, the CASA report recommends: (1) A major investment in treatment research. (2) Pre-prison access to substance abuse treatment. "Provide police, prosecutors and judges with flexibility so that nonviolent offenders who are addicted to alcohol and drugs can be diverted from prison into treatment, drug courts, coerced abstinence or other programs." (3) Providing treatment in prison to all who need it and give incentives, such as reduced prison time, to inmates who successfully complete treatment. (4) Providing pre-release planning for treatment and aftercare services for parolees who need them.

Director of National Drug Control Policy, Ret. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, said he will convene a conference in Washington, D.C. on March 23 to examine the issue of drug and alcohol treatment in the criminal justice system. However, in response to the CASA study, McCaffrey said, "When it comes to drug treatment, the federal government will not be the solution."

[*A regular drug user is defined as someone who used an illegal drug, including marijuana, at least once per week for four weeks. This is an absurdly over inclusive definition. This term includes millions of Americans who have not used any illegal drug in years. -- EES]

National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse - Columbia University, 152 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019-3310, Tel: (212) 841-5200, Fax: (212) 956-8020, Web: