Substance Use

Assessing the effectiveness of incarceration-based drug treatment programs

Ojmarrh Mitchell
Associate Professor of Criminology, University of South Florida

Key Findings

  • Incarceration-based drug treatment programs fall into five different categories, the most effective focus on the multiple problems of substance abusers to reduce post-release crime offending and diminish the likelihood of future drug use.
  • The least effective programs operate in a non-intensive manner and address only a narrow segment of the issues that affect incarcerated substance abusers.
  • One type of treatment program, therapeutic communities (TC), was consistently found to be effective in reducing post-release offenses and drug use.
  • Residential substance abuse treatment programs and group counseling programs were found to be effective in reducing re-offenses but were not found to be effective at reducing drug use.

Description

In the article, “Does Incarceration-Based Drug Treatment Reduce Recidivism? A Meta-Analytic Synthesis of the Research,” Mitchell and his co-authors assessed the effectiveness of different types of incarceration-based drug treatment programs. The authors synthesized results from 66 published and unpublished evaluations of these treatment programs and found that the programs fell into five types: therapeutic communities (TCs), residential substance abuse treatment (RSAT), group counseling, boot camps specifically for drug offenders, and narcotic maintenance programs. The authors examined the effectiveness of each of these types of interventions in reducing post-release offending and drug use.  The results consistently found that therapeutic communities (TC) programs were effective in reducing post-release offenses and in reducing drug use.  Residential substance abuse treatment programs and group counseling programs were found to be effective in reducing re-offenses, but were not found to be effective at reducing drug use. A limited number of evaluations were available for narcotic maintenance programs or boot camp programs; however, the existing evaluations found mixed results for the efficacy of both of these programs at reducing re-offenses and drug use. The authors suggested that policy makers seeking effective interventions for incarcerated substance abusers would be most likely to find success with programs that focus on the multiple problems of substance abusers in an intensive manner, such as the therapeutic communities programs. Policy makers should expect smaller treatment benefits from less intensive treatment programs. Further, there is no evidence that correctional boot camps targeted at substance abusers reduce either post-release offending or drug use, and, thus, policy makers should not expect these programs to produce reductions in recidivism.

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