Is incarceration enough to address the problem of drug abuse? The answer is no, because criminal behavior associated with illegal drug-seeking activities results from changes in the brain caused by repeated drug use; to truly reduce criminal behavior for drug offenders, the root of the problem – substance abuse addiction – must be addressed with addiction treatment within the criminal justice system.(1) After analyzing various data sources from federal and state law enforcement, corrections and health agencies, The Pew Charitable Trusts did not find any strong association between incarceration and its impact on the nation’s drug problems. Instead, the findings confirm prior research that stiffer prison terms are ineffective in reducing substance use and drug-law violations.
Many drug offenders do not have prior or other criminal convictions, but they are propelled to commit crimes to satisfy their drug addiction. The United States Department of Justice released a report in 2015 examining drug offenders based on demographics, basic offense characteristics and sentence imposed. The study, based on 94,678 offenders whose most serious offense was a drug offense, revealed that 99.5% of offenders were imprisoned for drug trafficking and about 35% of these offenders had either no previous or minimal criminal history.