Research Network Tests Drug Abuse Treatment Following Incarceration

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NIDA Director, Dr. Nora D. Volkow

A majority of current and former prisoners (60 to 80 percent) in the Nation's criminal justice system were convicted on drug-related charges: possession, trafficking, crimes committed while under the influence of drugs, or crimes committed to support an addiction. Drug abuse treatment is one of the most effective known means of helping such individuals avoid repeating the patterns that brought them into the criminal justice system. Research has shown that even prisoners who enter treatment primarily to avoid longer or more stringent sanctions have reduced post-release rates of drug abuse and arrest.

While we know drug abuse treatment works for offenders and ex-offenders, we do not yet know which interventions work best. Initiatives differ across the Nation in structure, approach, availability, and efficacy. To find out what types of initiatives and interventions are optimal for incarcerated or recently released individuals, NIDA is funding a national research network, the Criminal Justice-Drug Abuse Treatment Studies (CJ-DATS) project, established in 2002. Working with Federal research partners in justice and public health, the nine centers and one coordinating site that make up CJ-DATS are building a knowledge base on the effective components of treatment for this population, strategies for successful transition from prison to community, and ways to reduce barriers to treatment within the community and the criminal justice system.

Initial CJ-DATS efforts are focusing on the pivotal period surrounding prison release. Researchers are testing interventions that help people learn healthy ways to deal with anger, improve communication, build social support, and stay engaged in addiction treatment. This last issue is vital: Many of the 600,000 people released from jails and prisons every year are referred to outpatient addiction treatment, but only about 30 percent attend regularly for the recommended minimum of 3 months. CJ-DATS investigators also are evaluating interventions designed to reduce risky sexual behaviors after reentry into the community. This, too, is a critical issue, because rates of sexually transmitted disease, including HIV/AIDS, are much higher among prisoners than in the general population. Studies also are examining how program structure, staff skills, resources, and culture affect service delivery and outcomes.

People reentering the community after incarceration require help with housing, employment, finances, family relationships, and health issues. CJ-DATS will determine how different justice systems around the country coordinate supervised reentry with community health and social services, information that will enhance treatment and ultimately improve outcomes. The information on optimal approaches that CJ-DATS is designed to provide holds tremendous promise for easing the social and economic burdens that arise out of the nexus of drug abuse and crime.