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Chemical Dependency Treatment for Offenders: A Review of the Evidence and Benefit-Cost Findings

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Elizabeth Drake - December 2012

The Washington State Institute for Public Policy was directed by the 2012 Legislature to review whether chemical dependency treatment in the adult and juvenile justice systems reduces crime and substance abuse. The Institute was also asked to estimate the monetary benefits and costs of these programs.

We conducted a systematic review of research studies to determine if, on average, these programs have been shown to reduce crime. To narrow our review of this vast literature, we focused on the type of chemical dependency programs funded by Washington taxpayers.

We located 55 unique studies with sufficient research rigor to include in our review. Programs for adult offenders have been evaluated more frequently than for juveniles. Of the 55 studies, 45 evaluated treatments delivered to adults while only 10 were for juveniles.

Our findings indicate a variety of chemical dependency treatments are effective at reducing crime. Recidivism is reduced by 4-9%. Some programs also have benefits that substantially exceed costs.

We found that community case management for adult substance abusers has a larger effect when coupled with “swift and certain.” This finding is consistent with an emerging trend in the criminal justice literature—that swiftness and certainty of punishment has a larger deterrent effect than the severity of punishment.

Report ID: 12-12-1201

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