Substance Abuse Treatment is a Cost Effective Alternative

The number of adults involved in the criminal justice system has soared from about 1.8 million in 1980 to 7 million today. The connection between drug abuse and crime is well documented by research. Drug abuse is implicated in at least three types of drug related offenses: (1) offenses defined by drug possession or sales; (2) offenses directly related to drug abuse (e.g., thief to acquire money for drugs); and (3) offenses related to a criminogenic lifestyle that predisposes the drug abuser to engage in illegal activity.[1] For instance, one-half to two-thirds of inmates in jails and State and Federal prisons meet standard diagnostic criteria (DSM) for alcohol/drug dependence or abuse. Yet only 7% to 17% of these inmates receive substance abuse treatment services in jail or prison, so that most of the over 650,000 inmates released back into our communities each year have not received needed substance abuse treatment services.[2]

The total estimated costs of drug abuse and addiction due to use of tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs are estimated at $524 billion a year. Illicit drug use alone accounts for $181 billion in health care, productivity loss, crime, incarceration and drug enforcement.[3] Studies demonstrate it is actually less expensive for jurisdictions to treat substance-abusing offenders than to house them untreated in jail or prison. It is estimated that every dollar invested in substance abuse treatment yields $7 in benefits. The net benefits are primarily due to reduced costs of crime and increased employment earnings. The total costs related to crime and incarceration decreased by $7,500 per person treated, while employment earnings increased by $3,400.[4]

Community-based treatment is an effective alternative and provides a workable solution to reintegrate substance-abusing offenders back into the community. Community-based treatment provides a pathway to employment, education and other prosocial and non-criminogenic behaviors that build communities and promote public safety. An in-depth study of a Delaware prison revealed that compared to in-prison substance abuse treatment, a transitional program composed of a combination of work release, drug treatment, and aftercare services provided a more effective environment for successful offender reentry. [5]

Substance abuse treatment services can be incorporated into criminal justice system in a variety of cost effective ways. These include treatment as a condition of probation, drug courts that blend judicial monitoring and sanctions with treatment, treatment in prison followed by community-based treatment after discharge, and treatment under parole or probation.[6]

At Cenikor, we believe that treatment is an effective alternative to prison. Treatment is an important aspect of assisting individuals in curbing their habits and forming new goals that make them become productive citizens in the communities in which they live. If you would like further information, please visit our website at or contact us at 888-236-4567. We are happy to help.


[1] National Institute on Drug Abuse (July 2006). Treatment for Drug Abuser in the Criminal Justice System

[2] National Institute on Drug Abuse (May 2011). Treating Offenders with Drug Problems: Integrating Public Health and Public Safety

[3] Ibid

[4] Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (August 2006). Economic Benefits of Treating Substance Abuse Outweigh Costs

[5] Justice Policy Institute (January 2008). Substance Abuse Treatment and Public Safety

[6] National Institute on Drug Abuse (July 2006). Treatment for Drug Abuser in the Criminal Justice System

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