Does incarceration-based drug treatment reduce recidivism?


January 5, 2010

In the United States, approximately 40% to 45% of prison inmates have a history of substance abuse. Without effective treatment, many are likely to re-offend after release. The period of incarceration is thus a critical opportunity to implement correctional interventions.

A 2007 paper by the University of Cincinnati, George Mason University and University of Maryland published in the Journal of Experimental Criminology, “Does Incarceration-based Drug Treatment Reduce Recidivism?” looks at the available evidence on the effectiveness of incarceration-based drug treatment in reducing drug relapse and recidivism.

Key findings include:

  • Participation in a drug treatment program is associated with a modest reduction in post-treatment re-offence. The re-offending rate for the treatment group is estimated to be 42%, assuming a 50% re-offending rate for the comparison group.
  • Among the types of drug interventions studied, therapeutic communities exhibited the strongest and most consistent reductions in drug relapse and recidivism.
  • Residential substance abuse treatment and group counseling programs are effective in reducing re-offending but not drug use.
  • Narcotic maintenance programs may reduce drug use but not re-offending. The ability to draw firm conclusion in this area is, however, hampered by scant evidence.
  • Correctional boot camps for drug offenders are ineffective in reducing both re-offending and drug relapse.

In designing future policy, the authors judge that successful drug treatment programs are those that intensively focus on the multiple problems of substance abusers, as demonstrated by therapeutic communities programs.

Tags: addiction, drugs, medicine, prisons


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Citation: Mitchell, Ojmarrh : et al. "Does Incarceration-based Drug Treatment Reduce Recidivism?", Journal of Experimental Criminology, December, 2007, Volume 3, Issue 4, 353-375, DOI: 10.1007/s11292-007-9040-2.