Evaluation of Prison-Based Drug Treatment in Pennsylvania

Wayne N. Welsh, Temple University
Patrick McGrain, Temple University

Despite the proliferation of prison-based drug treatment programs, most remain unevaluated and relationships between inmate characteristics, treatment process and outcomes remain only poorly understood. In this paper, we report preliminary results of an evaluation of drug treatment programs at five state prisons, using a quasi-experimental design with matched comparison groups. The experimental group consisted of about 325 inmates entering intensive, residential Therapeutic Community (TC) programs at five institutions. A comparison group was formed from about 875 inmates participating in much less intensive Drug Education or Outpatient programs at the same institutions, using a matching design to control for differences in drug involvement (i.e., assessed need), overall risk (e.g., current offense and criminal history), level of exposure to treatment (e.g., 1 month v. 1 year) and whether or not the inmate successfully completed treatment or not. While the most intensive form of prison-based drug treatment (TC) significantly lowered the risk of recidivism, TC was not unanimously effective for all inmates. Various factors that moderate treatment effects are discussed, as are implications for program development, implementation and evaluation.

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Updated 05/20/2006