NIH Press Release
National Institute on Drug Abuse

Tuesday, July 18, 1997

Mona W. Brown
Sheryl Massaro
(301) 443-6245

Later Criminal Behavior and Drug Use Dramatically Reduced
By Drug Treatment Beginning in Prison

Comprehensive treatment of drug-addicted prison inmates, when coupled with post-release aftercare, reduces the probability of their being rearrested by 57 percent and reduces the likelihood they will return to drug use by 37 percent. In a study just published in the Journal of Drug Issues, researchers at the University of Delaware's Center for Drug and Alcohol Studies found that within 18 months after release from prison, 54 percent of untreated drug-addicted inmates were rearrested and 84 percent were back using drugs. By comparison, of the individuals receiving drug abuse treatment during their prison stay and in aftercare programs, only 23 percent had been rearrested and 53 percent had used drugs again.

"The effectiveness of this ‘Delaware model' for drug treatment has tremendous implications for policy makers, incarcerated individuals and their families, and for the public," said Dr. Alan I. Leshner, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, which provided funding for the study. "This study shows that treating drug-addicted offenders while they are in prison and immediately after release is an extremely effective strategy for reducing both public safety and public health costs of drug abuse and addiction."

The study was an 18-month followup of 448 individuals involved in a three-stage therapeutic community treatment model run by Correctional Medical Systems. Therapeutic communities provide long-term, residential treatment emphasizing resocialization and behavioral change toward reintegrating an individual to society. In this study, the treatment stages included a prison-based therapeutic community setting, a work release therapeutic community, and community-based aftercare, and they coincided with an individual's changing status from incarceration to work release to parole.

The individuals studied were drug-involved male and female offenders in the correctional system. They had volunteered to receive either (1) prison-based therapeutic community drug treatment only; (2) work-release therapeutic community drug treatment followed by aftercare; (3) prison-based therapeutic community treatment followed by the work-release drug treatment and aftercare; or (4) training in a work release program but no therapeutic community drug treatment.

At the 18-month followup, 77 percent of those who had received all three stages of treatment were arrest-free and 47 percent were drug-free. Of those individuals who had received only the work-release and aftercare stage, 57 percent were arrest-free and 31 percent were drug-free. Of the individuals who had received no treatment, only 46 percent were arrest-free and 16 percent were drug-free at 18 months.

"The majority of individuals in prisons want to be able to live productive lives when they leave the correctional system," said Dr. James A. Inciardi, principal investigator for the study. "This treatment model can help them remain drug-free and crime-free when they return to the community, if given appropriate care during key transitions." Dr. Inciardi and his colleagues are continuing the study with followup interviews at 42 months and 54 months after release from prison.

NIDA supports more than 85 percent of the world's research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction and carries out a large variety of programs to disseminate research information. Further information on NIDA's research and activities can be found on the NIDA Home Page at