There is an undeniable link between crime and substance abuse. Drugs are directly or indirectly responsible for many types of crime. Even when crimes are not explicitly substance-related, a high percentage of criminals suffer from some type of substance abuse. According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice in the Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, 68 percent of prison inmates met the criteria listed by the DSM (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) for drug dependence or abuse.
One of the most controversial debates in politics today is whether offenders with addictions should receive treatment instead of incarceration. There is also the question of treating inmates with addictions. Due to either lack of funding or lack of awareness, only a small percentage of inmates are treated for their addictions. For example, according to an official from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, the state of Ohio only treats about 4,500 inmates for drug or alcohol addictions when as many as 30,000 inmates could benefit by being treated.
Politicians, law enforcement officials and the public are also increasingly questioning the wisdom of incarcerating people with addictions for non-violent offenses. A recent study by the Pew Research Center indicates that 67 percent of Americans favor treatment over incarceration for people who use illegal substances such as cocaine and heroin.
Addiction and Recidivism
Addictions play a large role in the problem of recidivism. When inmates are released into society, they often return to the cycle of substance abuse and committing crimes. Some promising clues about the benefits of treating people with addictions can be found by looking at Norway’s criminal justice system. America has one of the highest recidivism rates in the world. More than three-quarters of all inmates released from prison in the U.S. are re-arrested within five years. Norway’s recidivism rate, by contrast, is only 20 percent. While there may be many reasons for this, Norway’s criminal justice system focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment.
Changing Statistics on Addiction and Recidivism
There is a general consensus that the criminal justice system in the United States is seriously flawed. The very fact that the U.S has both the world’s highest incarceration rate and the largest prison population is itself indicative of a problem. When this is considered along with the knowledge that crime and addictions are closely connected, there is a strong indication that changes are in order.
Fortunately, there is now more awareness in the U.S. on the importance of treating and rehabilitating people with addictions, especially when the offenses are non-violent. Much more progress must be made in this area, however, if the cycle of addiction, imprisonment, release and recidivism is to be broken.