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It may seem obvious to advocates, but we need drug detox in prisons and in some cases, we need detox instead of prison. Professional drug detox centers are equipped to help, but prisons are no place to kick the habit.

Drug-related arrests make up a large majority of all arrests in the U.S. and most of the drug-related crimes were merely possession. Almost 85% of all drug-related arrests were for possession while only 12% were for the sale or manufacture of the drug1.

Nonviolent drug convictions are a defining characteristic of many inmates in federal prisons systems2. The problem is that once arrested, convicted, and jailed, that individual’s life is destabilized. It’s very difficult to recover from a conviction and second chances are in short supply.

And then detox begins. Center on Addiction reports that 65% of all U.S. inmates meet medical criteria for substance abuse addiction, but only 11% receive any treatment3.

Why Drug Detox in Prisons is Cheaper

To begin, a 2012 study showed that: “[If] only 10 percent of drug-addicted offenders received drug rehabilitation instead of jail time, the criminal justice system would save $4.8 billion compared to current costs. If 40 percent of addicted offenders received treatment instead of jail, those savings would rise to $12.9 billion.”4

  • Drug treatment and detox are less expensive than incarceration.
  • Providing detox in prisons is one step to take to decrease the chances of reconviction.
  • Individuals who detox and quit drugs get healthier. They are no longer a burden on the healthcare system.
  • The war on drugs is a huge cost burden to law enforcement agencies. Reformed addicts are less likely to commit crimes and perpetuate crime, decreasing the need for law enforcement in these areas.

The solution is staring us in the face. Drug detox in prison is the first step and eventually the idea to completely replace some convictions with drug detox and treatment instead is a money-saving and life-saving measure.  The cost of not treating substance abuse is much larger than the cost of treating substance abuse.

There are many who feel that societal funded appropriations would be better used to increase prison, police, and parole board committees.  However, society suffers much more when substance abuse remains untreated.  The financial cost to society of not treating substance abuse has been made clear.  The intangible cost is much less clear, harder to quantify as it consists of lost opportunities to alter and forever transform lives.


[1]: DrugWarFacts.org – Crime, Arrests, and Law Enforcement

[2]: PrinsonPolicy.org – Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2018

[3]: Center on Addiction – New Casa Report

[4]: Sage Journals – Lifetime Benefits and Costs of Diverting Substance-Abusing Offenders From State Prison

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