Substance abuse treatment reduces repeated criminal activity - Sovereign Health Group
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12-18-15 Category: Mental Health


According to the state of California’s 2013 prison census data from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), 11,656 people in prison are incarcerated for drug-related crimes. This proportion makes up 8.7 percent of the total population behind bars. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has ordered policy changes to increase the amount of people released from incarceration, many experts and statistical sources highlight an aspect of the prison system that has not been addressed: recidivism. Especially in the case of drug-related offenses, substance abuse treatment programs have been greatly effective at reducing future criminal activity.

Drug crime recidivism

According to the Pew Center on the States, California had the second highest rate of recidivism in the United States between 2004 and 2007. One of the most comprehensive measures of these annual trends is conducted by the CDCR. In their 2014 Outcome Evaluation Report, the statewide assessment detailed that the recidivism rate for drug-related offenses was:

  • 38 percent within the first year
  • 47.5 percent within two years
  • 49.5 percent within three years

Overall, 14,547 out of 29,361 Californians released from incarceration due to drug crimes returned to prison between 2009 and 2010, which was an 8.6 percent drop from the previous fiscal year. But despite this moderate decline, recidivism still amounted to nearly half of all releases.

Recidivism with treatment

The CDCR also measured the effectiveness of its rehabilitative substance abuse treatment (SAT) programs, which include in-prison SAT programs and community-based SAT programs, also referred to as continuing care or aftercare. When inmates participated in both in-prison SATs and aftercare services, recidivism rates only reached:

  • 10 percent within the first year
  • 18.8 percent within two years
  • 20.9 percent within three years

The effectiveness of substance abuse treatments in California has been assessed in previous studies as well. For example, Psychologist Harry K. Wexler, Ph.D., made a strong argument for prison reform in 1999 when he and fellow researchers observed 478 prisoners from R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego. Only 27 percent of those in the study sample who received prison-based care and continuing services were reincarcerated, while 75 percent of prisoners who were not involved in any treatment were reincarcerated.

In addition, Professor Sheldon Zhang, Ph.D., of San Diego State University led an evaluation of California’s Substance Abuse Treatment and Recovery (STAR) between 2000 and 2002. STAR is a substance-based education program and a component of the Preventing Parolee Crime Program (PPCP). Zhang and his team’s results determined that “the odds of a non-PPCP participator being reincarcerated were 1.38 times higher than for those who enrolled in PPCP services.”

As the issue regarding California’s overburdened prisons is continually discussed and debated, acknowledging the strategies that the state can utilize is imperative to enacting lasting improvements. If you or loved one is struggling with addiction and resulting problems with the law, contact Sovereign Health of California through our 24/7 helpline to learn about our programs.

Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer

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