Nearly Half of State Incarcerees Suffer From Substance Abuse: Survey

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Illustration courtesy of the Prison Policy Initiative.

Despite recommendations by the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare to provide access to behavioral or medical treatment for incarcerees struggling with addiction, only 33 percent of state inmates and 46 percent of federal incarcerees participated in any alcohol or drug treatment program while they were behind bars, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).

The BJS report, based on the most recent prison inmate survey, conducted in 2016, showed that nearly half of federal and state prisoners who were not incarcerated the entire year prior to the offense for which they are serving time met the criteria for a substance abuse disorder during that time.

According to researchers, 49 percent of state prisoners and 32 percent of federal prisoners who who responded to the survey met the criteria for a substance abuse disorder. But just 12 percent of state inmates, and 15 percent of federal prisoners, received treatment in a residential facility or unit since their incarceration.

Additionally, only an estimated 27 percent of state and 25 percent of federal prisoners participated in any kind of self-help group or peer counseling since the beginning of their incarceration.

The report also shows that drug use among prisoners had increased over the previous 12 years.

In 2016, nearly 90 percent of state and 84 percent of federal inmate respondents reported ever using drugs, compared to 83 percent of state and 79 percent of federal prisoners in 2004.

In addition, the data showed a 7 percent increase, from 32 to 39 percent, in federal inmates and a 9 percent increase, from 26 to 35 percent, in state prisoners who reported to have used drugs at the time of the offense for which they were serving their sentence from 2004 to 2016.

The BJS report was compiled from self-reported data from adult prisoners who participated in face-to-face interviews for the 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates (SPI).

Comparative data came from the 2004 Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities.

The 2016 survey covered 24,848 inmates in 364 prisons.

Alcohol and Drug Use Trends

 Nearly 40 percent of state and federal prisoners reported using drugs and about 30 percent reported drinking alcohol at the time of the offense for which they were incarcerated, an increase compared to 2004.

In 2016, about 39 percent of state and 25 percent of federal prisoners reported using drugs at the time of their offense, compared to 32 percent of state and 26 percent of federal prisoners in 2004.

In addition, 64 percent reported using at least one drug within the 30 days prior to their arrest, also an increase from 2004.

In 2016, 65 percent of state and 58 percent of federal prisoners reported drug use in the 30 days prior to their arrest, compared to 56 percent of state and 50 percent of federal prisoners in 2004.

More state prisoners reported using marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine, hallucinogens and misusing prescription drugs 30 days prior to their arrest than in 2004. State prisoners’ reported use of cocaine in the 30 days prior to their arrest declined from 21 percent in 2004 to 18 percent in 2016.

Federal prisoners were more likely to use marijuana and hallucinogens, or to misuse prescription drugs in the 30 days prior to arrest in 2016 than 2004. Federal prisoners’ reported cocaine usage declined from 18 to 15 percent over the same time period.

Prisoner Characteristics

 The report found that among state prisoners, reported use of alcohol at the time of the offense was about 30 percent for white, Black and Hispanic prisoners. In federal prison, reported usage remained about 30 percent for whites and Blacks and dropped to 15 percent among Hispanic prisoners.

Hispanic prisoners in both state and federal prison were less likely than white prisoners to report using at least one drug at the time of their offense.

State prisoners serving time for drug or property offenses were 20 percent and 14 percent, respectively, more likely to report using drugs at the time of their offense compared to those serving time for violent offenses.

About 58 percent of female state prisoners met the criteria for a substance abuse disorder in the year prior to their incarceration compared to 48 percent of men.

White state and federal prisoners were more likely to meet the criteria for a substance abuse disorder than Black and Hispanic prisoners.

Federal prisoners serving time for violent offenses were more likely than property and public order offenders to meet the criteria for a substance abuse disorder prior to incarceration.

State prisoners serving time for violent offenses were less likely than property, public order and drug offenders to meet the criteria for a substance use disorder prior to their incarceration.

Survey Methodology

Prisoners who participated in the survey were initially asked whether they had ever had any type of alcoholic beverage. If a prisoner answered yes, the interviewer asked follow-up questions regarding their use of alcohol in the year prior to their incarceration and at the time of their offense.

Prisoners were also asked if they had ever used seven different types of drugs. For any drug prisoners reported to have used, they were then asked questions about use in the 30 days prior to their arrest and incarceration.

Prisoners not incarcerated for the entire year prior to the time of incarceration for the offense for which they were serving a sentence were asked about their drug use 12 months prior to prison admission.

The report estimates alcohol use disorder based off prisoners who meet the DSM-IV alcohol dependence or abuse criteria. The same goes for drug use disorder with prisoners meeting the criteria for drug dependence or abuse.

This combined total makes up the estimate of prisoners with substance use disorders.

The report was prepared by BJS Statistician Laura M. Maruschak, and former BJS Statisticians Jennifer Bronson, Ph.D., and Mariel Alper, Ph.D.

The full report and tables can be downloaded here.

Blake Diaz is a TCR Justice Reporting intern.

One thought on “Nearly Half of State Incarcerees Suffer From Substance Abuse: Survey

  1. The problem as I see it is money. The offenders that want to be assessed and go into treatment are told they will do the program 6-9 months before they leave prison. In the meantime, they are using in prison and not getting treatment. The drugs are coming into prison. How you ask? Good question since we have not had any visitors in 18 months…..

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