Why are states abandoning drug treatment? Crime in America.Net

Newsweek offers a compelling article stating that “Treatment for drug addiction works better and costs less than imprisonment alone. So why are states abandoning it?”

“Of the 2.3 million inmates in the U.S., more than half have a history of substance abuse and addiction. Not all those inmates are imprisoned on drug-related charges (although drug arrests have been rising steadily since the early 1990s; there were 195,700 arrests in 2007). But in many cases, their crimes, such as burglary, have been committed in the service of feeding their addictions. Rich, a professor of medicine and community health at Brown University, is worried that, by refusing or neglecting to provide treatment to these addicts, many U.S. prisons are missing the best chance to cure them—and in the process to cut down on future crime. Treatment can reduce recidivism rates from 50 percent to something more like 20 percent, according to the DEA. Yet it is not widely provided. “

See: http://www.newsweek.com/2010/06/29/the-case-for-treating-drug-addicts-in-prison.html.

The staff at Crime in America.Net has been asking the same question for the past year, see http://crimeinamerica.net/category/drug-treatment/.   As a result of declining budgets, treatment programs have suffered along with incarceration rates, see http://crimeinamerica.net/category/budgetimpact/.

Virtually all states are undergoing tremendous fiscal difficulties.  From a recent article in  “Stateline”: “Corrections was an easy target for lawmakers, but prison officials and others worry that some cuts could be counterproductive. For instance, Kansas slashed funding for a nationally recognized program aimed at helping ex-offenders stay out of trouble. Illinois and Oregon stopped early-release programs amid concerns over public safety. ” See http://www.stateline.org/live/details/story?contentId=495106.

The bottom-line is that states are cutting police officers, parole and probation agents and are shutting down prisons. It was inevitable that treatment programs  would be affected.

But note that fiscal issues in the states is not the real issue because even in the best of times, only a small percentage of prison inmates and offenders on parole and probation get drug treatment or programs of any kind. Why?

Politicians and the public need to prioritize spending and while we are sympathetic towards programs for children or the elderly or the unemployed, there is little empathy for people perceived to do society harm.

Data states that most people with drug problems don’t see a need to enter treatment. The track record for massive drug interventions (California’s Proposition 36) as to participation and completion is not impressive.

Plenty of people who get drug treatment continue their criminality. Offenders often need several tries at treatment before it becomes effective.  The endless humdrum of negative news regarding offenders doesn’t help.

But the bulk of evidence “is” clear; drug treatment works to reduce recidivism (re-offending) and does save taxpayers money.  But how that message is presented to the public will make the difference between sufficient programs and no programs.

Crime in America.Net



  1. James Sandel says:

    American culture, with its encouragement of “rugged iindividualism,” has probably been responsible for the amazing denial among substance dependent people. Addiction and addicts have been stigmatized so virulantly, that it is no wonder that they nearly always deny the problem until it results in incarceration and/or significant losses in relationships, lifestyle, health and productivity. Even then, denial is so entrenched that the addict and often the addict’s support system, avoid assigning responsibility to the addiction. The addict in jail is far more likely to blame the police, or anyone elso who has been instrumental in his/her incarceration. That drug use is, at least at the onset, a matter of choice, is undeniable. But by the time it comes to the attention of corrective influences, it has ceased being a simple matter of taking reponsibility for one’s behaviors. “Just say no,” is not only a useless strategy, but it is counter productive in its affirmation of social stigmatism.

    One huge benefit of decriminalizing the use and possession of illicit drugs would be the (admittedly gradual) reduction of the social stigmatization. Evidently, Portugal can be offered as a prime example of the benefits of an “attitude adjustment” that encourages tolerance and assistance rather than punishment and social isolation.

    Sadly, due to factors including political considerations, cultural beliefs and values, and the huge profits associated with production, smuggling and distribution, will most likely block well intentioned efforts to remove this problem from the venue of our overburdened and often corrupt system of “law and order,” and address it instead as a public health issue: an illness rather than a “badness.”

    The most dangerous drugs of all – alcohol and nicotine – enjoy a special exemption from the logic of prohibiting the distribution and use of dangerous drugs, a clear contradiction of several important principles (including the aforementioned “rugged individualism.” A far more useful remedy for health concerns and the social good would be to make such enterprises far less profitable, that they would not be so enticing. There are ways to do this, and it’s been proven over about 75 years of law enforcement strategies, that criminalizetion simply doesn’t work. The “war” on drugs is unwinable…..so let’s take the profit out of it.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Full Circle Refuge. Full Circle Refuge said: Crime in America.Net – Why are states abandoning drug treatment? Crime in America.Net http://bit.ly/doszJn […]

%d bloggers like this: