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Responding to Offenders with Substance Abuse Disorders


ICCA recognizes the significant and pervasive impact substance use disorders have on our country, currently evidenced by the opioid epidemic devastating communities. Nowhere is this impact more apparent than with those involved in the criminal justice system.

Addressing both the substance use disorders and criminogenic thinking of an individual is necessary to reduce the likelihood of further involvement within the criminal justice system. The connection between drug and alcohol abuse and criminal behavior is well-documented. The corrections system has a responsibility to treat substance use disorders in order to reduce future criminal behavior, thus contributing to the community safety and reducing the costs and consequences associated with recidivism.

Fortunately, there are effective treatment programs. Virtually all studies conducted over the last 25 years show that substance abuse treatment is effective in reducing drug and alcohol use disorders, thereby increasing community engagement and decreasing crime.


Research indicates that 80% of those involved in the criminal justice system abuse drugs or alcohol, and nearly half are clinically addicted. 50% of probation sentences include court-ordered drug/alcohol treatment.

The need for addictions treatment within the corrections system is clear, however treatment availability is often severely limited. Without appropriate treatment both inside correctional facilities and in the community, numerous studies confirm that the likelihood of reoffending is increased.

Treatment is cost-effective. For every dollar spent on treatment, seven dollars are saved due to significant reductions in criminal activity among program participants.


  • Collectively, substance use disorders are a major public health concern and potentially a legal/criminal matter. Substance use disorders are a physiological, psychological, behavioural, and relational problem for a significant number of individuals and their families and communities. The misuse, abuse, and dependency of both legal and illegal substances is widespread and most effectively addressed utilizing a disease model of diagnosis and treatment.

  • Criminal justice sanctions alone are not as effective as treatment in reducing both criminality and drug and alcohol abuse. Addiction treatment contributes to long- term crime control, reduces the risk of ongoing criminal behavior, and should be considered at sentencing for those with criminal risk factors associated with drug/alcohol addiction.

  • Alcohol and drug treatment offered within the context of corrections must be based on a coordinated response between the criminal justice and drug treatment systems. Treatment does not need to be voluntary to be effective. Furthermore, court requirements and community supervision can be used to get and keep individuals in treatment and to manage drug abusing individuals safely and effectively in the community.

  • Correctional resources such as drug and alcohol treatment programs should be prioritized for those who are most likely to re-offend.

  • Holding clients accountable for non-compliance is essential. However, they should not be discharged unsuccessfully from programs for exhibiting the problems that brought them into treatment.


  1. For less serious crimes linked to addiction, provide community-based diversion and treatment alternatives to incarceration and conviction such as therapeutic community treatment, deferred prosecution programs, and drug courts.

  2. Collaboration between corrections and treatment professionals is vital to the success of treatment delivered as part of a corrections system response.

  3. Validated assessment tools should be used to prioritize treatment, determine risk factors, and to determine the proper level of care. Treatment should be prioritized for those with both a higher risk to re-offend and a higher level of severity with a substance abuse problem.

  4. All treatment plans should be based on individual age, gender, ethnicity and culture, problem severity, recovery stage, and level of structure needed. The treatment plan should include criminal risk factors in addition to addiction risk factors that will be addressed in treatment. All interventions and sanctions should be developmentally appropriate, gender responsive, trauma informed, and culturally competent.

  5. Treatment program designs should address issues of motivation to change. Treatment options should be available for individuals consistent with their assessed stage of change; and designed to enhance the clients’ motivation to change consistent with transtheoretical models of change.

  6. Treatment should be based on cognitive and behavioral interventions and/or social learning approaches. Treatment programs should be of sufficient length and intensity to produce stable behavior changes based on replacing old patterns of thinking and behaving, and learning and practicing new skills for avoiding drug use and criminal behavior.

  7. Treatment should, when appropriate and feasible, include involved family members.

  8. Drug and alcohol use during treatment should be monitored. There should be a consequence for this or any other rule violation, but that consequence should not automatically result in withdrawal from treatment. In fact, sanctions should be used to assure longer stays in treatment which are associated with good outcomes. Sanctions, like treatment, should be tailored and/or graduated.

  9. Programs should include relapse prevention planning and comprehensive transition planning so that participants are more likely to adjust to the next level of care or change in living situation.

  10. Programs should reach out into the community with coaching and assistance with necessary supports such as safe and sober housing.

  11. Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT) is widely accepted as a component of an effective treatment program, and as such should be used as deemed medically appropriate, legally allowable, and logistically feasible.

  12. Naloxone (Narcan) is a well-accepted and proven intervention for opioid overdose. Where permissible by law, staff should be properly trained in the use of Naloxone, and it should be readily available if needed.

Reviewed and adopted by the ICJA Board of Directors Date: October 5, 2018

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