Cost Effectiveness of Substance Abuse Treatment in Criminal Justice Settings

The unfortunate synergy between criminal activity and drug use persists as a major challenge to public health and public safety systems. Today, half of the 2 million people incarcerated in state and federal prisons meet the criteria for drug dependence or abuse as described in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).

Although the prevalence of drug dependence or abuse is highest among offenders committing nonviolent drug-related crimes, an estimated 25 percent of state and federal prisoners report committing violent offenses while being under the influence of drugs. Violent crimes include such offenses as rape/sexual assault, aggravated assault, and murder, which represent the most costly of all crimes with an estimated cost per offense ranging between $127,000 to over $8 million.

The annual growth rate for incarceration has slowed in recent years, but expenditures for criminal justice services (police, courts, corrections) have increased. Furthermore, as a proportion of their respective budgets, states are spending more on criminal justice functions than the federal government. Because departments of correction represent such a large component of most state budgets, it is particularly important to evaluate funding priorities and to suggest better ways of allocating correctional resources. The prevalence of drug use among criminal offenders and the positive rate of growth in the already large incarcerated population, strongly suggest a need to fund cost-effective substance abuse interventions in criminal justice settings.