NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

U.S. Justice Dept. Study: Prisoners Used Drugs And Alcohol Before Commiting Violent Crimes

January 6, 1999

A new study from the Justice Department concludes that an increasing proportion of prison inmates had been drug users before their arrests. At the same time, drug treatment programs in prisons are on the decline. In a related finding, a greater percentage of inmates reported using alcohol -- rather than drugs -- when they committed violent crimes.

  • Among 494,349 state prisoners convicted of violent crimes, 42 percent said they had been consuming alcohol at the time versus 29 percent who were on drugs.
  • The proportion of state inmates who had used drugs in the month previous to a violent crime increased to 57 percent in 1997 from 50 percent in 1990.
  • Among federal inmates, the proportion rose from 32 percent to 45 percent over the period.
  • The proportion of state prisoners who received treatment for their drug abuse fell from 24.5 percent in 1991 to 9.7 percent in 1997 -- and from 15.7 percent to 9.2 percent among federal prisoners.

The report underscored a strong link between drug use and criminality, finding that 83 percent of inmates in state prisons and 73 percent of those in federal prisons had used drugs at some point in their lives.

Anticipating bad news in the Justice Department report, President Clinton announced that he would ask for an increase in funds budgeted for combating drug use among prisoners, parolees and probationers. He wants the amount appropriated to rise from $115 million currently to $215 million for testing and treating prisoners.

Sources: Christopher J. Mumola, "Substance Abuse and Treatment, State and Federal Prisoners, 1997," Special Report, December 1998, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.; Fox Butterfield, "Drug Treatment in Prisons Dips as Use Rises, Study Finds," New York Times, January 6, 1999.


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