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Study Finds Drug Treatment is Cost-Effective Alternative to Prison

Newswise — Alternative programs that divert felony drug offenders to substance abuse treatment programs rather than prison terms could save the U.S. criminal justice system millions of dollars and reduce recidivism, according to a study conducted by researchers at RTI International.

The study, funded by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse through a subcontract with the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, was published in the latest issue of the journal "Justice Research and Policy" (Issue 7, Vol. 1).

“The study shows that drug treatment programs for felony offenders provide great economic benefits to the criminal justice system and reduce recidivism rates among offenders, providing societal and economic benefits,” said Gary Zarkin, Ph.D., principal investigator for the study. “Based on the results, policymakers should consider diversion programs for higher-risk drug offenders in addition to low-risk offenders usually eligible for such programs.”

The study compared 130 drug offenders serving time in prison in 1995 -1996 with 150 participants enrolled in the Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison Program during that same time. The drug treatment program was implemented in 1990 by the Kings County District Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The study monitored participant costs associated with the criminal justice system, the drug treatment program and recidivism rates for six years. Results showed that the drug treatment program saved the criminal justice system more than $47,000 per person during the six-year period, a savings of more than $7 million to the New York City criminal justice system for the 150 participants studied.

The study also found that participants in the drug treatment program had lower recidivism rates than those in the prison comparison group.

The drug treatment program diverts nonviolent felony drug offenders from prison into community-based treatment early in the legal process, avoiding high costs of incarceration and most of the costs of prosecution.

The study estimated costs for the drug treatment program as well as court processes including prison and parole. Researchers also analyzed annual costs and six-year cumulative costs for participants in the drug treatment program as well as for those in the prison comparison group.

“We did not include other potential societal benefits such as reduced public assistance, and avoided crime and victimization costs in our analysis,” Zarkin said. “If we factor in those added outcomes, the economic benefit of diversion programs may be significantly larger, demonstrating an even greater value of such programs.”

Zarkin suggests that researchers and policymakers use the results of this study to evaluate the potential benefits of other diversion programs.

About RTI International
RTI International, the nation's second largest independent nonprofit research organization, is dedicated to conducting research and development that improves the human condition by turning knowledge into practice. RTI has more than 2,500 staff members who work in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, eight regional offices in the United States, and five international offices. These dedicated professionals offer innovative research and technical services to governments and businesses worldwide in the areas of health and pharmaceuticals, education and training, surveys and statistics, advanced technology, governance, economic and social development, energy, and the environment. For more information, please visit us at http://www.rti.org.