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Drug Abuse and Criminal Behavior

Drug abuse and criminal behavior take a toll on society that can only be partially measured. While we are able to estimate the number of drug-related crimes that occur each year, we can never fully determine the extent to which the quality of life in America's neighborhoods has been diminished by drug-related criminal behavior. With the exception of drug-related homicides, which have declined in recent years, drug abuse and criminal behavior is continuing at a strong and steady pace.

Increasingly, research is demonstrating that treatment for drug-addicted offenders during and after incarceration can have a significant beneficial effect. Treatment helps prevent future drug abuse and criminal behavior as well as improve their social functioning. The case for integrating drug addiction treatment approaches with the criminal justice system is compelling. Combining prison and community based treatment for drug addicted offenders reduces the risk of both recidivism to drug-related criminal behavior and relapse to drug use. For example, a recent study found that prisoners who participated in a therapeutic treatment program in the Delaware State Prison system and continued to receive treatment in a work-release program after prison were 70 percent less likely than nonparticipants to return to drug abuse and criminal behavior.

The individuals studied were drug-involved male and female offenders in the correctional system. They had volunteered to receive either (1) prison-based therapeutic community drug treatment only; (2) work-release therapeutic community drug treatment followed by aftercare; (3) prison-based therapeutic community treatment followed by the work-release drug treatment and aftercare; or (4) training in a work release program but no therapeutic community drug treatment.

At the 18-month follow-up, 77 percent of those who had received all three stages of treatment were arrest-free and 47 percent were drug-free. Of those individuals who had received only the work-release and aftercare stage, 57 percent were arrest-free and 31 percent were drug-free. Of the individuals who had received no treatment, only 46 percent were arrest-free and 16 percent were drug-free at 18 months.

Additional studies have been done to determine the effectiveness of therapeutic communities. These studies found that participation in a therapeutic community was associated with several positive outcomes. The Drug Abuse Treatment Outcome Study (DATOS), the most recent long-term study of drug treatment outcomes, showed that those who successfully completed treatment in a therapeutic community had lower levels of cocaine, heroin, and alcohol use. They also had lower instances of overall drug abuse, criminal behavior, and unemployment. In addition, the study found lower indicators of depression than before treatment.

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