Study Shows Positive Cost Benefit of Investing in Drug and Alcohol Treatment in Prisons

WALTHAM, Mass., Jan. 11— Inmates from Connecticut prisons who get substance abuse treatment are significantly less likely to be rearrested, resulting in a benefit of 1.8 to 5.7 times the cost of providing the treatment, according to a study conducted by researchers at Brandeis University.

“Almost 46 percent of Connecticut’s prison population gets rearrested within the first year after release, but that figure drops to 37.4 percent for inmates who receive basic treatment and 23.5 percent for those who receive intensive substance abuse treatment,” according to Marilyn Daley, PhD, senior research associate at the Schneider Institute for Health Policy. The study by Daley and her colleague Donald Shepard, PhD, also of Brandeis University, and others was published in the latest issue of the Journal of Offender Rehabilitation.

“If we don’t provide the treatment, the same inmate who gets rearrested costs $45,536 to the taxpayer each year, which is 5.7 times the cost of basic treatment at $7,931 and 1.8 times the cost of intensive treatment at $25,438,” according to Shepard. Treatment costs were based on a review of prison systems budget to identify direct and indirect costs of treatment programs and incarceration.

“Based on the results of this study, the Connecticut taxpayer would receive a favorable return on the investment of state dollars in prison-based treatment programs. The government should find ways to ensure that more drug-involved inmates receive treatment,” the researchers said.

The findings of this study are relevant for states with budget difficulties that are experimenting with prison-based treatment programs compared to expensive and intensive therapeutic models of treatment. This is one of the first studies to report that attending prison-based treatment programs can substantially reduce crime, recidivism and costs to the criminal justice system, the researchers said.

“The cost benefit of providing the treatment would be much higher if we included the societal benefits of former inmates who stay away from criminal activity with some even becoming productive members of society. Previous research has also shown that untreated drug dependent offenders are likely to escalate their criminal behavior following release from prison and are responsible for an excessive amount of violent and property crime” according to Shepard.

The Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (SAPRP) of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded the research.

According to national figures, 80 percent of prison inmates have serious alcohol or drug problems, though only 15 percent are receiving substance abuse treatment. In addition, researchers estimate that treatment programs comprise less than 5 percent of state prison budgets, a figure that is shrinking each year.

“Over the last two decades, the criminal justice population in the United States has grown by over 200 percent, most of the increase due to an escalation in the number of drug-related offenders. Increased enforcement and mandatory sentences for drug related offenses caused the number of offenders serving sentences for drug offenses to increase nine-fold between 1982 and 1996,” the authors wrote in the paper.

The researchers examined the records of 831 inmates who were released in 1997. They collected data on the inmates for 24 months prior to release and 24 months after release to measure participation in treatment programs and rearrest rates.

At the time of this study, 83 percent of inmates serving time in Connecticut state prisons had problems with alcohol or drugs. To address these problems, the Connecticut Department of Correction provided four levels or tiers of prison-based treatment at increasing levels of intensity. The study showed reductions in rearrest rates occurred at six months, one year, 18 months and two years for inmates who attended any of the treatment programs.

The Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (<>) of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (<>) is a $54 million program that funds research into policies related to alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs. Based in Princeton, N.J., RWJF is the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care. It concentrates its grant making in four goal areas: to assure that all Americans have access to quality health care at reasonable cost; to improve the quality of care and support for people with chronic health conditions; to promote healthy communities and lifestyles; and to reduce the personal, social and economic harm caused by substance abuse - tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs. To this end, the Foundation supports scientifically valid, peer-reviewed research on the prevention and treatment of illegal and underage substance use, and the effects of substance abuse on the public's health and well-being.

Source: January 11, 2005 news release from the Substance Abuse Policy Research Program, a National Program supported by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with direction and technical assistance provided by the Center for Creative Leadership.