A new Bureau of Justice Statistics report finds there are significantly higher rates of drug dependence and abuse among incarcerated individuals.
More than half of state prisoners and two-thirds of jail inmates ages 18 to 24 fit the criteria for drug dependence and abuse. These rates are 10 to 15 times higher than the 5 percent rate of the general U.S. population with similar demographics.
The report also found that 69 percent of female state prisoners and 72 percent of female jail inmates meet the study’s criteria for drug dependence and abuse, much higher than the percentages for male state and jail inmates, 57 percent and 62 percent respectively.
Researchers defined drug dependence as compulsive drug use causing impairment or distress over a 12-month period and drug abuse as the negative impacts of drug use, based on definitions from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
The federal report used data collected by the 2008-2009 National Inmate Surveys and was released Tuesday. It’s part of an effort by the Department of Justice to examine the relationship between drug addiction and incarceration.
In addition to finding a gender disparity in drug addiction among incarcerated individuals, the study uncovered that white inmates are more likely to suffer from drug dependence and abuse than black or Hispanic prisoners. Fifty-five percent of black state prisoners and 57 percent of black jail inmates fit the study’s criteria, compared to 62 percent of white state prisoners and 72 percent of white jail inmates. Hispanic prisoners meet the criteria at 58 percent and 55 percent, depending on whether they are in state facilities or local jails.
Individuals incarcerated for property offenses like burglary, shoplifting and theft are more likely to suffer from drug dependence and abuse than those convicted of violent crimes, according to the report.
Furthermore, many of the inmates who participated in the study said that between 72 and 75 percent used drugs before incarceration. Of those, 42 percent of state prisoners and 37 percent of jail inmates were using drugs at the time of the offense for which they are currently doing time.
“Many offenders have underlying addiction concerns, so while incarcerated we focus attention on those areas,” said Jason Clark, director of public information at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
The most common drug among prisoners who participated in the study was marijuana, followed by cocaine. Other popular drugs included heroin and opiates.
Only 28 percent of state prisoners and 22 percent of jail inmates participated in drug treatment programs since their incarceration. Many prisons simply punish individuals who commit crimes as a result of their drug dependence and abuse rather than treat it as a health problem.
“In order to reduce crime and save taxpayer dollars, the U.S. Justice system must address addiction and substance abuse as health problems and provide effective intervention and treatment,” said the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in a statement on its website. “Incarceration alone cannot prevent or treat a disease.”
To combat the prevalence of drug dependence and abuse in prisons, many states have increased the number of programs they offer inmates for treatment. Texas, for example, has expanded its treatment offerings to include substance abuse specific facilities and pre-release programs.
“The results are paying dividends,” said Clark. “Fewer people are coming to prison which is a good thing for everyone involved in the criminal justice system.”