man behind bars extending his arm out in plea for help

Addiction and Mass Incarceration in America


Sober Recovery Expert Author

man behind bars extending his arm out in plea for help

America contains the world’s largest prison population, with drug offenders contemporarily accounting for a substantial minority of prisoners and an larger number still “on paper” under probation, parole or conditional release. A substantial component of the rise in mass incarceration in America directly links to addiction.

The Link Between Addiction and Mass Incarceration

To date, the U.S. prison population stands at slightly over 2 million prisoners, with an additional nearly 7 million individuals on some degree of probation, parole, bond or community control. Of these 9 million individuals clogging the U.S. criminal justice system, a substantial portion are directly linked to untreated addiction. Here’s a look at some of the shocking statistics:

While about half of states have failed to appropriately address drug-related incarceration effectively, another half are paving the way to a healthier society by pairing drug-related crimes with alternative sentences that promote treatment.
  • 50% of federal prison populations are serving time related to drug-related convictions traceable back to addiction in America (or, a total of approximately 47,500 inmates as of 2014).
  • Prison populations at the state-level account for an additional 210,000 prisoners convicted of drug-related crimes currently still incarcerated as of 2014.
  • Local jurisdictions contained around an additional 230,000 inmates related to drug offenses.
  • 977,000 individuals were on probation in 2014 for drug-related charges.
  • An additional 273,000 individuals were on parole for drug-related offenses as well.
  • An additional 18% of convicted criminals concede their arrests were related to addiction, with a staggering average of 60% of all convicted criminals meeting the DSM diagnostic criteria for substance abuse and addictions-related disorders.
  • None of these statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Department of Justice, or the other reporting agencies include a whole other aspect of addiction: alcohol-related offenses. To date, limited data exists on those cases in which alcohol was a precipitating factor in the criminal conviction as well.

To sum up, in the year 2014, a total of 1.7 million to 2.5 million individuals were involved with the criminal justice system in America by way of addition-related crimes.

Addiction’s Prevalence in American Society

A total of 6.8 to 7 million Americans have a diagnosable form of addiction in any given year, with addiction growth rates closely correlating to prisoner population growth rates in America. Overcrowding is rampant in American prisons, with 40 states exhibiting over 90%t capacity, with 23 states actually operating in violation of federal law beyond 100% capacity. Internal documents from the DOJ report that re-arrests for minor-drug use related offenses account for half of the causes of the overcrowding.

However, states that emphasize treatment in lieu of incarceration for drug offenders ultimately saw lower incarceration rates that went well below the national average and no signs of overcrowding past capacity.

In short, the growth of mass incarceration in the United States is linked closely to addiction and substance abuse. While about half of states have failed to appropriately address this medical-legal challenge effectively, another half are paving the way to a healthier society as a whole by pairing drug-related crimes with alternative sentences in drug rehabilitation treatment.

If you or someone you know is seeking help from substance addiction, please visit our directory of treatment centers or call 866-606-0182 to start the path to recovery today.

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