85% of Prison Inmates Need Substance Abuse Treatment

by Incarcerated Flavors

Of the estimated 2.3 million inmates currently incarcerated in U.S. prisons, 1.9 million could benefit from alcohol and drug treatment, which could ultimately save taxpayers millions of dollars, according to a new report. Currently only 11% of inmates who need treatment are receiving it during their incarceration.

Approximately 85% of current inmates could benefit from treatment, according to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.

The CASA report, “Behind Bars II: Substance Abuse and America’s Prison Population,” shows that 1.5 million of the estimated 2.3 million prison inmates meet the DSM IV medical criteria for substance abuse or addiction.

Another 458,000 inmates have a history of substance abuse and were either:

  • Were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of their crime.
  • Committed their offense to get money to buy drugs.
  • Were incarcerated for an alcohol or drug law violations.


According to the CASA report, “if all inmates who needed treatment and aftercare received such services, the nation would break even in a year if just over 10 percent remained substance and crime free and employed. Thereafter, for each inmate who remained sober, employed and crime free the nation would reap an economic benefit of $90,953 per year.”

CASA officials argue that cash-strapped states could save millions of the provided treatment to addicted inmates and increased the use of drug courts and alternative treatment programs.

Compared to non-substance involved inmates, prisoners with substance abuse problems were:

  • More likely to be re-incarcerated.
  • Likely to begin their criminal careers earlier.
  • Have more contacts with the criminal justice system.


The CASA study also found that alcohol and drugs are significant factors in the commission of many crimes. Alcohol and drugs are involved in the following:

  • 78% of violent crimes
  • 83% of property crimes
  • 77% weapon offenses
  • 77% of probation or parole violations


Susan E. Foster, CASA’s Vice President and Director of Policy Research and Analysis, said the 144-page CASA report, which is available online in PDF format, outlines the steps that need to be taken to reduce the number of substance-involved inmates crowding U.S. prisons.

“This report lays out the steps we need to take to address the treatment needs of offenders while holding them accountable for their crimes,” said Foster in a news release. “We do not as a nation refuse to provide treatment for other chronic ailments like heart disease or diabetes. We should do so for addictive disorders, especially when the added benefits of treatment for offenders include significant reductions in crime and its costs to society.”