RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. -- 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
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 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.