Root Cause Of Crime I: Substance Abuse

About 47.2% of people newly sent to prison each year in Colorado have a severe or moderately severe substance abuse problem.  Another 35.1% have a moderate substance abuse problem.  Only 9.4% have no substance abuse problem.  Female inmates are even more likely to have a moderate or severe substance abuse problem than male inmates: 87.4% of them need treatment for this reason.

Why don’t more of these inmates get treatment? In large part because Governor Owens has vetoed efforts to do so.  For example, in 2002, a bill, SB 39, to reduce drug sentences modestly and use the funds to pay for drug treatment, which passed the State Senate by a bipartisan 26-9 margin, and passed the State House by a 62-1 margin, was vetoed by the Governor.A sample of Denver arrestees in 2003 showed that the percentage who tested positive for use of illegal drugs far exceeded the percentage arrested for drug crimes.  Of men arrested, 72.6% tested positive for illegal drugs, and 75.1% of women did. (See Table 317).  Among the male arrestees, 42.3% tested positive for marijuana, 38.3% tested positive for cocaine, and 6.8% tested positive for opiates; among female arrestees, 34.3% tested positive for marijuana, 52.5% for cocaine, and 6.1% for opiates (the subfigure for meth is not available).  Some of this involves arrests for drug crimes themselves, but certainly, a large percentage do not.  And, these arrest figures don’t even begin to capture alcoholism as a factor in crime.

Substance abuse that treats this root cause of crime prevents those who receive treatment from offending again.

[P]rison-based substance abuse treatment is effective

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Andrew Oh-Willeke

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