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Open Access Research

Treatment at the front end of the criminal justice continuum: the association between arrest and admission into specialty substance abuse treatment

Sheryl Pimlott Kubiak1*, Cynthia L Arfken2, James A Swartz3 and Alison L Koch2

Author Affiliations

1 School of Social Work, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, USA

2 Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, USA

3 Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA

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Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy 2006, 1:20  doi:10.1186/1747-597X-1-20

Published: 31 July 2006

Abstract

Background

To reduce criminal recidivism and drug use, it has been proposed that the substance abuse treatment delivery system cut across different components of the criminal justice continuum. Arrest, at the front end of this continuum, may represent a critical moment to motivate people with substance use disorders (SUD) to seek treatment but is often over looked as an intervention point. We used data from the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) to compare treatment need and recent treatment admission for participants with no criminal justice (CJ) involvement in the past year, past-year arrest, and CJ supervision (i.e., probation or parole status).

Results

Of those arrested, 44.8% met criteria for an SUD. However, only 14% of those arrested with an SUD received treatment in the year of their arrest. In multivariate modelling, arrest was an independent predictor of treatment admission (odds ratio (OR) = 8.74) similar in magnitude to meeting criteria for an SUD (OR = 8.22). Those further along the continuum – under supervision – were most likely to receive treatment (OR = 22.62).

Conclusion

Arrest involves the largest number of individuals entering the criminal justice system. The NSDUH suggests that nearly 6 million individuals in the US experience an arrest annually and that nearly half meet criteria for an SUD. Although arrest involves the largest number of individuals entering the criminal justice system, it is also the most fleeting point as individuals can move in and out rather quickly. Minimally, arrest imposes contact between the individual and a law enforcement person and can be an opportunity for early intervention strategies such as pre-arraignment diversion into treatment or brief intervention strategies. Using brief intervention at this early point in the continuum may motivate a greater number of individuals to seek treatment or decrease drug and alcohol use. Training and procedural shifts at this point of contact could have important policy implications in reducing the number of subsequent arrests or preventing individuals moving further along the criminal justice continuum, as well as decreasing the fiscal and resource burdens associated with criminal justice processing and confinement.