Drug Courts

2. Needs of the Offender Population

Research has consistently shown that the rate of substance abuse and mental and physical health problems is much higher among the offender population than it is for the everyday person. While just under 2% of the general population is infected with hepatitis C (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2007), roughly 31% of incarcerated populations are infected (Beck & Maruschak, 2004). While one tenth of 1% of the general population is HIV-positive (Glynn & Rhodes, 2005), 2% of inmates are infected with the virus (Maruschak, 2006). A majority of prisoners (56%) and jail inmates (64%) have mental health problems (James & Glaze, 2006), while 16% of prisoners, jail inmates, and probationers could be classified as mentally ill (Ditton, 1999). This is compared to estimates that approximately 10% of adults had some form of serious psychological distress in the past year (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA], 2006). The offender population is also at a higher risk for other physical health problems, such as asthma and diabetes, and findings have also shown that offenders returning home following incarceration are subject to higher rates of fatality as a result of substance abuse and violence (Binswanger, Stern, & Deyo, 2007).

Less than 10% of adults in the general population have substance abuse or dependency problems (SAMHSA, 2006). However, studies conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that over 80% of prisoners reported past drug use (Mumola, 1999), while two thirds of those in jail classified themselves as regular drug users (Karberg & James, 2005), and roughly half of probationers reported regular drug use (Mumola & Bonczar, 1998). Overall, offenders are 4 times as likely to have a substance abuse problem (SAMHSA, 2006), yet recent studies have shown that the availability of comprehensive treatment service is low across all correctional settings (Taxman, Perdoni, & Harrison, 2007) and that less than 8% of adult offenders have access to the level of care that they need.

Dealing with the pronounced needs of the offender population has proven troublesome for the criminal justice system, but the enactment of legislation creating stiff penalties for drug-related offenses has only compounded these difficulties. The laws meant to deter potential offenders from drug use instead resulted in a massive influx of offenders into the justice system. The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Drug Court Clearinghouse and Technical Assistance Project found that over 83% of the offenders who were scheduled for release from prison had been involved in drugs or alcohol during the time of their offense.

To reduce the burden of drug offenses on the criminal justice system and in an effort to provide treatment in the hopes that it will aid in preventing offender recidivism and improve their quality of life, drug treatment courts have become a common institution in communities across the United States.

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