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Alternatives To Keeping A Drug Addict Out Of Prison

John Schaffer, LPCC

Medically reviewed by

John Schaffer, LPCC

February 28, 2019

Illegal drug abuse is a serious problem in today’s society and many who enter or are currently in the criminal justice system struggle with drug addiction. Fortunately, there are other options that help individuals get the help they need while avoiding spending time in jail.

Know The Facts

When a person is incarcerated with a drug addiction, their addiction does not simply disappear. Many underlying issues that stemmed from the addiction still remain, even after the individual serves their time and enters back into society.

An article from Newsweek approximates that of the nearly 2.3 million inmates in the United States today, roughly 50 percent of them have a history of drug addiction or substance abuse. This means that over 1 million individuals incarcerated are struggling with an addiction.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also conducted their own study and found that in reality, there are actually around 1.9 million incarcerated individuals that have used illicit drugs. This is a growing problem that needs to be addressed by our healthcare workers, law enforcement officials, criminal justice system, families, and communities.

Drug Abuse And Crime

Drug addiction is a mental illness because it affects the way the human brain functions. Many incarcerated individuals also have other mental illnesses (such as depression or bipolar disorder among others). When an individual abuses any substance, it also impairs their cognitive functions, decision-making skills, and inhibitions. The decreased cognitive functioning increases the chances of committing crimes.

  • Around 73 percent of federal inmates and 83 percent of state prisoners have previously used illicit drugs
  • Drug abuse influences criminal offenses. Approximately 22 percent of federal inmates and 33 percent of state inmates were under the influence of drugs when they committed their crime
  • Of the approximately 800,000 individuals in the criminal justice system that needed or could have benefited from drug abuse treatment, less than 1/3 actually received treatment
  • The U.S. Justice Department mentions that 2/3 of all drug offenders released from jail will return to prison or jail within 3 years

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The monetary costs associated with keeping inmates in jail are high, and for many drug offenders, jail time is ineffective for treating addiction. Many criminal justice facilities lack drug treatment program options. However, some states have instead opted to use drug treatment in lieu of incarceration for non-violent drug offenders.

When an individual is able to attend a rehab treatment facility, this has positive benefits and helps create a solid foundation on the road to sobriety. Choosing a rehab facility will allow individuals to establish a healthy lifestyle and will give them the help they need as they go forward in life.

Drug treatment has proved to be cost-effective, as well. Maryland is one such state that is using drug treatment instead of incarceration. On average, costs for offenders started at $20,000 but decreased dramatically to $4,000. And the costs of drug treatment generally ranged from $1,800 to $6,800, which is substantially lower than incarceration.

California has also incorporated Proposition 36, which mandates that anyone entering the criminal justice system under non-violent drug-related offenses be given substance abuse treatment rather than jail time.

Drug Courts

Drug Courts are another alternative to jail time for drug offenders. In the United States, on September 2, 2014, there were 2,619 Drug Court programs currently operating, which also included the 156 Tribal Drug Courts. There were 201 Drug Court programs that were also in the process of being planned which also included 12 additional Tribal Drug Courts.

Adult Drug Courts in 2014 were currently operating or had plans to operate in all 50 states including Washington DC and places such as Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Northern Marina Islands. These Drug Courts planned to operate or were currently operating in 1,621 out of 3,143 counties in America.

Drug Courts programs are primarily designed to help drug offenders receive treatment by using the court’s authority by changing ian ndividual’s drug abuse behaviors. Eligible individuals agreeing to participate will be diverted to Drug Court programs at different stages of the judicial process in return for a potentially reduced sentence or even perhaps dismissed charges. The Drug Court programs are offered to individuals as another option instead of incarceration or probation.

Looking Ahead

Individuals struggling with illicit drug addiction need proper treatment. They deserve to be respected and treated as human beings. An individual sentenced for crimes relating to drug addiction is still a topic that is heavily debated among many taxpayers, politicians, law enforcement officials, criminal justice personnel, and legislators alike.

While drug addiction treatment should definitely be available to all, there still needs to be more focus on drug treatment for those who are currently incarcerated for drug-related crimes. We must keep in mind that treatment should be an option not only for those who seek to avoid jail, but also for struggling individuals that are currently incarcerated who have violent criminal offenses and do not have the option for Drug Court or other treatment alternatives.

Individuals currently incarcerated should have more effective drug addiction treatment options available to them while serving their sentence. While the main objective is to keep struggling individuals out of prison and getting them the help they need, the reality is that many struggling individuals are already currently in prison and also need help for their addiction. This is an issue and a reality we as a society must face as we continue to look for solutions as time moves forward.

Contact Us

Battling an addiction can affect many areas of your life. If you or someone you know is struggling with an illicit drug addiction or other types of addiction, the best thing you can do is seek treatment help. Contact us today at, and we can help you find the right rehab facility that fits your needs.

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