Myth or Reality?

The best way to deal with drug-addicted offenders is through residential drug treatment while they are incarcerated.

Our long-term love affair with incarcerating offenders has resulted in a prison and jail population exceeding 2 million. Is this the best way to deal with people who commit crime and take drugs?  Are we better off locking them up or treating them in the community? While those concerned about public safety might suggest taking the safer path and treating offenders behind bars, new evidence suggests that community-based programs may be a better and more cost effective way to go.  A recent study by Christopher Krebs and his associates compared outcomes of large groups of drug-involved offenders in Florida.  The subjects were separated into three groups receiving either a) community-based treatment, b) residential treatment, or c) no treatment.  Krebs found that in comparison with no treatment, nonresidential drug treatment reduced the chances for a subsequent arrest for a felony for drug-involved probationers by 22%. Residential treatment, which costs 3 times more than community-based treatments, did not have similar success. Considering that there are so many offenders with substance abuse problems in the correctional system, the use of community-based treatment can result in significant increases in public safety, rather than doing nothing, and at a far less cost than locking up offenders.  At a time of declining budgets and high caseloads, the effectiveness of relatively inexpensive community treatment can be critical.

Writing Assignment:

Why do you suppose community based drug treatment may be more effective than a prison/or jail experience?  What is it about an institutional experience that neutralizes the benefits of drug treatment that are not present in community based programs?

Christopher P. Krebs, Kevin J. Strom, Willem H. Koetse, and Pamela K. Lattimore, The Impact of Residential and Nonresidential Drug Treatment on Recidivism Among Drug-Involved Probationers: A Survival Analysis
Crime & Delinquency 2009 55: 442-471