Estimating Drug Treatment Needs Among Prison and Jail Inmates

Steven Belenko, Columbia University
Jordon Peugh, NYS Office of Alcohol & Subst. Abuse Svcs

Substance abuse and the enforcement of anti-drug laws have fundamentally affected the growth of America's prisons over the past 20 years and the types of inmates they house (Belenko & Peugh, 1998; Blumstein & Beck). Using data from the most recent national surveys of prison and jail inmates sponsored by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (Harlow, 1998; Mumola, 1999), this paper analyzes patterns of illegal drug use among inmates, summarizes access to treatment and other services, and makes quantitative estimates of the need for different types of treatment services in correctional systems.

Between 1980 and 2000, the total number of inmates in the United nearly quadrupled from 501,886 to 2,071,686 (Beck & Harrison, 2001). The state prison population increased by 318 percent (from 295,819 to 1,236,476 inmates), the federal prison population increased by 512 percent (from 23,779 to 145,416 inmates), and the number of local jail inmates increased by 241 percent (from 182,288 to 621,149). Although the rate of increase in incarceration has begun to slow (Beck & Harrison, 2001), the United States still has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world.

Substance use and abuse and involvement with drug crime are endemic among those behind bars in the United States. Our analysis reveals that nearly 1.7 million of the 2 million adult Americans in prison or jail (83 percent) are seriously involved with drugs or alcohol. Eighty-two percent of state inmates, 86 percent of federal inmates, and 85 percent of jail inmates fall into one or more of the following categories: they were convicted of substance-related crimes such as drug selling or driving while intoxicated; were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of their crime; committed a crime to get money to buy drugs; or had histories of regular illegal drug use or alcohol abuse. These percentages represent increases over 1991 BJS prison and 1989 jail inmate survey data, which showed that 81 percent of state inmates, 80 percent of federal inmates, and 77 percent of jail inmates were classified as substance-involved (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 1998).

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Updated 05/20/2006