It’s easy to say that drug abuse and crime are linked; after all, many addictive substances are illegal to begin with. But it’s not just drug possession or distribution offenses that have a link to substance abuse. Crimes that involve violence, abuse, theft, and property damage often have roots threaded in substance abuse. That being said, the frequency of substance abuse in criminals may be understated.
It is not uncommon to see stories about criminals on the news. Assaults, robberies, and break-ins are often outlined in short segments. When looking at the pictures of perpetrators, the idea that they could be addicts may not come to mind. It’s easy to think, “That’s just a rotten person.” Writing people off as bad eggs is simple. What is difficult is accepting that many crimes are the product of destructive, but treatable, drug addictions.
Data shows that drug abuse is an explanation to the huge influx of incarcerations in the past few decades. According to the National Institutes of Health website, criminals can be up to four times more likely than the general population to have a drug dependency. In fact, a 2004 survey by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) estimated that about 70 percent of State and 64 percent of Federal prisoners regularly used drugs prior to incarceration.
In hindsight, it seems obvious that drugs are a factor in many criminal cases. What could someone need money so desperately for, that they are willing to break the law and risk jail to get it? Drugs are an obvious answer. An addict can be moved to extreme actions to get their fix, because the alternative, staying sober, can be seem impossible without the right mindset and resources.
Now, many might ask why this is important. It seems obvious enough, but why does it matter?
If we can treat criminals’ substance abuse problems, it can be a step toward reducing the amount of incarcerations by repeat offenders. In addition, the right recovery programs can help uncover underlying mental issues, which may also be a factor in criminal activities.
The truth, though, is that many criminals with addictions don’t get the help they need. And when they don’t get the help they need and are released, they end up right back in jail again. According to the National Institute of Justice, a study found that within three years, two-thirds of prisoners were rearrested.
According to DrugAbuse.gov, in 2012, the population of people in correctional facilities was about 2 million, with approximately 5 million others on probation or parole. Their time in the criminal justice system isn’t free; it comes from taxpayer’s dollars. When criminals are put in jail over and over again, it damages not only their lives, but everyone in the nation’s.
By investing in treatment and prevention, there is a chance that these numbers can be lowered. Instead of slamming the cell door over and over again, opening a new door to recovery may be the right way to deal with criminals. It’s another investment, but a worthy one.
Next time you see a criminal on the news, think about what can be done to keep them out of the system. Often enough, treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues can be an answer to that question.