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Mass Incarceration and the Revolving Door of the Drug Addicted Prison Population

Marcel Gemme By Marcel Gemme | Last Updated: 19 September 2023
  • What You'll Learn

The United States locks up more people per capita than any other nation at a rate of 698 per 100,000 residents. Nationwide there are over 2.3 million people incarcerated within 1,833 state prisons, 110 federal prisons, 1772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,134 local jails, 218 immigration detention facilities, and 80 Indian Country jails. The number also includes military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories. Drug offenses account for the incarceration of almost half a million people or one in five inmates. Police make over one million drug possession arrests each year.

Nonviolent drug convictions remain a defining feature within the federal prison system per the Prison Policy Initiative. Drug arrests continue to give people criminal records, which then hurts employment prospects and increases the likelihood of a longer sentence if convicted again. Unfortunately, for drug offenders and drug users, it becomes a revolving door. Statistically, people who are released after serving time in prison for violent offenses are least likely re-offend. However, 51% of those charged with a drug offense are rearrested for a similar offense within three years of being released from prison. The vast majority of the federal, state, county, and municipal jails do not offer addiction treatment. The lack of treatment has hurt those addicted to substances like opiates and pain medication, among other drugs.

However, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia offer medication-assisted treatment. Withdrawal management is essential for opioid addiction, but should always be part of therapy, counseling, and rehabilitation. Inmates who take part in drug rehabilitation programs combined with aftercare are less likely to return to prison. It is estimated that two-thirds of the 2.3 million inmates are addicted to drugs or alcohol, per the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Since the 1970s, research has shown that those with addiction in the criminal justice system can change their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors toward drug use with proper treatment.

Treatment is critical to reducing overall crime and other drug-related societal burdens, such as lost productivity at work, family disintegration, and returning to jail or prison, and has proven to do so. Whether this is occurring before a person enters the prison system or while they are in prison—treatment is crucial to reducing the number of returning inmates. Across the nation are more than 3,000 drug courts and half of which are adult treatment drug courts. Participants reported less criminal activity, had fewer rearrests, and reported less drug use. However, despite these factors, cities, and counties are continually pouring vast amounts of resources into the processing and punishment of minor drug offenses.

Drug courts have had a positive effect along with an estimated 120 jails in 32 states and prison systems in 10 states offering evidence-based treatment. Addiction and substance abuse are a significant underlying factor in why many people end up in the criminal justice system. More resources are needed to help inmates get off drugs and rehabilitate their lives along with early intervention before they end up in the prison system. Addiction does not miraculously disappear because an addict is convicted, sentenced, and jailed because of a minor possession charge.




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Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with addiction for over 19 years. He first started as an intake counselor for a drug rehabilitation center in 2000. During his 5 years as an intake counselor, he helped many addicts get the treatment they needed. He also dealt with the families and friends of those people; he saw first-hand how much strain addiction puts on a family and how it can tear relationships apart. With drug and alcohol problems constantly on the rise in the United States and Canada, he decided to use the Internet as a way to educate and help many more people in both those countries. This was 15 years ago. Since then, Marcel has built two of the largest websites in the U.S. and Canada which reach and help millions of people each year. He is an author and a leader in the field of drug and alcohol addiction. His main focus is threefold: education, prevention and rehabilitation. To this day, he still strives to be at the forefront of technology in order to help more and more people. He is a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist graduate with Honours of Stratford Career Institute. Marcel has also received a certificate from Harvard for completing a course entitled The Opioid Crisis in America and a certificate from The University of Adelaide for completing a course entitled AddictionX: Managing Addiction: A Framework for Succesful Treatment.