Incarceration or Intervention: Costs and Benefits
In the work of leading global research organizations RTI International, by sending substance abusers to community-based programs rather than hauling these people to jail, the United States criminal justice system stands to save billions of dollars, in a study of the RTI International and Temple University. In the study of the groups, almost one half of the prisoners in the Federal and state prison system are incarcerated for drug abuse or substance addicts. However, even with the high rate of drug and substance abusers in the prison, it is estimated that only one out of ten get medical treatment during the period of their detention.
It was found that if left without any treatment, or even those with insufficient treatment regimens, are more likely to re-offend and resume their addictions when these are discharged from prison, and will re-offend at increased rates than those who do not abuse illegal substance abusers (RTI International 1).
Government organizations as well as “middle ground” and those from the center right sectors as well as polls display the assertion that treatment programs is far cheaper alternative than sending the offender to prison with regards to substance abuse offenders. In a report of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment of the United States Department of Health and Human Services entitled “National Treatment Improvement Evaluation Study: Final Report”, a multi-level research examining the effectiveness and improvement of treatment regimens that are funded by the agency, treatment, rather than incarceration, is more profitable compared to sending the person to jail. In terms of costs, costs range from $1,800 to $6,800 per patient.
In another program, the Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison in Brooklyn, allows a drug offender to plead guilty to the offense, and then be admitted to a “community treatment program” that can range for a period of up to 2 years as an alternative to serving a prison sentence. In evaluating the program, Columbia University’s National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse disclosed that the program gave compelling results in decreasing instances of recidivism and illegal drug abuse, raised the possibility of the former offender, once released, to be able find stable employment, as well as reduced expenses over the same period of time if the person was sent to jail (McVay, Schiraldi, and Ziendeberg 5).
The RTI and Temple University study showed that by redirecting the substance abuser to “community based” programs rather than sending the individual to jail, the system can save billions of dollars compared to prevailing levels. The resulting savings are realized from the prompt decrease in the cost of sending an offender to jail as well as the parallel reduction in the frequency of crimes committed by offenders that have been successfully treated. The lower rate of re-offense will result in reduced instances of re-arrests and resentencing and re-incarceration (RTI International 1).
Jurisdictions that have established “alternative to jail” programs such as “back end” and exit programs similar to Maryland’s Community Options Programs that includes day reporting, home detention, and structured offender treatment programs with increasing levels of sanctions for not meeting requirements. By alternating the use of incarceration and community intervention as compared to using incarceration solely or for majority of the cases in the system, the cost to house an inmate has been significantly reduced from $20,000 to only $4,000.
Treatment is practical
In the view of Dr. Gary Zarkin, Ph.D, the head of the study as well as vice president of RTI’s Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice Research Division, illegal drug use of is a continuing problem among government policy makers owing to the increasing rates of prevalence and its effect on criminal tendencies. To Zarkin, with the enormous burden of substance abuse on the United States criminal justice system in particular, and on American society in general, resulting from the prevalence of illegal substance abuse, redirecting offenders to proven and focused substance abuse treatment centers and programs will result in reduce prevalence of drug abuse, lesser number of criminal events, and savings in terms of finances allocated (RTI International 1).
The results of the study were established on a simulation mechanism of a sample of 1.1 million to represent the United States prisoner population in 2004. The mechanism regards substance abuse as a “chronic illness, approximates the gains realized for treatment in the course of the lifetime of the offender, and the expenditures related to the commission of crime and criminal justice costs that relate to the police, litigation, sentencing, and incarceration. In the estimate of the model, it was shown that if a mere 10 percent of eligible convicts were redirected to community based treatment programs instead of prison, the criminal justice system has the potential to save more than $4 billion compared to the prevailing methodologies. In effect, by redirecting 40 percent of eligible offenders to the community system, the criminal justice system can save up to more than $12 billion (RTI International 1).
Other research actions utilize a “cost benefit analysis”- a far wider approach on many funds is used on treatment options compared to the amount of funds that is used on prison facilities, factoring in elements such as crime statistics and other potential benefits to society such as employment figures and earnings from taxes. In the result of the evaluation, it was shown that in terms of value for money, redirecting the offender to substance abuse programs in the community significantly reduces the amount of funds that are used and greatly benefits society in an improved rate than sending the offender to jail.
In the study of the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, in their yearly analysis of the state of Washington as well as the criminal justice policy of other states, sets the parameters of concerns regarding cost benefits for the policy makers at the state level as well as addressing the concern of examining the benefit that scarce resources for the criminal justice system financial allocation as demanded by taxpayers. This measure, to be viewed as effective, must result in lesser instances of re-offending and reduced crime rates (McVay, Schiraldi, and Ziendeberg 6).
Treatment reduces instances of re-offending and illegal drug use while benefiting the community
Aside from the financial cost effectiveness and the potential of treatment in saving money for criminal justice systems across jurisdictions in the United States, there is a growing number of literatures that shows that treatment can significantly reduce illegal drug abuse. In the end report of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, there is an observed conclusion of a pattern of reduce alcohol as well as illegal drug use across modalities.
The decreases range commonly from one-third to two-third depending on the service unit. In the observation of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration for the state of Maryland, the agency reports that of the people that the program has successfully treated and discharged from the programs that the agency finances, these individuals have a significantly lower rate to either completely eliminate or at the very least, reduce substance use compared to the rates that these people used when these were admitted into the programs.
With the DTAP program in Brooklyn, where the offender pleads guilty to the charge than is allowed to enter a 15-24 month therapy regimen based in a community setting, where by “community” the offender also resides within the community, the program also saw solid growth in terms of graduation rates as well as reduced frequency of arrests from offenders that have gone through the program as well as integrated into the community. In fact, of all the offenders redirected to the DTAP program, more than half of the “clients” successfully go through the program, and DTAP participants stay within the program six times longer than national programs comparable to DTAP (McVay, Schiraldi, and Ziendeberg 9).
There are effective alternative models in the United States
In addition to the “drug court” system being used in the country, states have now also chosen to participate in a new Federal program, “Break the Cycle”. The Federal policy is an enhanced form of probationary monitoring that centers on treatment regimens for illegal drug abuse, testing as well as punitive measures for those that fail to meet the “grade” in completing the requirements of the program. The goal of the program is to levy a graduated system of penalties in an effort to strengthen the motivation of the offenders to complete the program.
In addition, the program achieves its goals for decreasing instances of re-offending. In the report of the BTC program, offenders that participate in the program are seen to be less prone to re-offending after the initial six months after these are discharged under supervision compared to those that do not complete the requirements of the program (McVay, Schiraldi, and Ziendeberg 9). In concluding, there must be programs that will redirect non violent substance users to treatment programs rather than sending these to prison. In addition, judges must be given back the discretion whether to send a defendant to treatment rather than incarceration (McVay, Schiraldi, and Ziendeberg 19).
RTI International. “Study: Replacing prison terms with drug abuse treatment could save billions in criminal justice costs”<http://www.rti.org/newsroom/news.cfm?obj=1A73B88D-5056-B100-0C4FCB2644F94C21>
McVay, Doug, Schiraldi, Vincent, and Ziedenberg, Jason. “Treatment or incarceration? National and state findings on the efficacy and cost savings of drug treatment versus imprisonment”. <http://www.justicepolicy.org/uploads/justicepolicy/documents/04-01_rep_mdtreatmentorincarceration_ac-dp.pdf>