Alcohol or Drug Link Found in 80 Percent of U.S. Prisoners
By CHRISTOPHER S. WREN
NEW YORK -- Illegal drugs and alcohol helped lead to the imprisonment of four out of five inmates in the nation's prisons and jails, a three-year study has found.
The report, which was released Thursday by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, determined that of 1.7 million prisoners in 1996, 1.4 million had violated drug or alcohol laws, had been high when they committed their crimes, had stolen to support their habit or had a history of drug and alcohol abuse that led them to commit crimes.
But while 840,000 federal and state prisoners needed drug treatment in 1996, the report said, fewer than 150,000 received any care before being released.
"The most troublesome aspect of these grim statistics is that the nation is doing so little to change them," Joseph Califano Jr., the chairman of the center that sponsored the report, said in a foreword.
Califano, who served as secretary of health, education and welfare under President Jimmy Carter, said that releasing inmates without treating their drug or alcohol addictions was "tantamount to visiting criminals on society."
Such negligence, he said, only sustained the market for illegal drugs and supported drug dealers.
Alcohol, more than any illegal drug, was found to be closely associated with violent crimes, including murder, rape, assault and child and spousal abuse. Twenty-one percent of state prisoners convicted of violent crimes committed them under the influence of alcohol alone, the report said. Three percent were high on crack or powder cocaine and only 1 percent on heroin.
According to the report, 69 percent of federal prisoners, 76 percent of state prisoners and 70 percent of local jail inmates used drugs at least once a week during the month before they were locked up.
The report did not deal with drug and alcohol abuse by 3.8 million others on probation and parole, but Mark A.R. Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the University of California at Los Angeles, estimated that people under the supervision of the criminal justice system consumed 60 percent of the cocaine sold in the United States.
The report, titled "Behind Bars," said drug abuse fueled recidivism. In state prisons, it said, 81 percent of inmates with five or more convictions have used drugs regularly, compared with 63 percent who had two prior convictions and 41 percent who were first-time offenders.
The report also said the number of inmates and prisoners in the nation had more than tripled since 1980.
While the link between drugs and crime is already widely accepted, the report made a strong case for doing more to break the connection.
Califano said in an interview that imposing long mandatory sentences on addicted drug felons "makes no sense" because it removes their incentive to undergo treatment in order to get out of prison.
Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, the retired Army officer who directs the White House's national drug policy, said the study was consistent with a recent Justice Department forecast of drug use, which showed that more than 60 percent of adult males arrested for felonies at 20 of 23 American metropolitan areas had tested positive for at least one illegal drug.
The Clinton administration has pushed through legislation that requires states to test prisoners and parolees for drugs in order to receive new federal money for prisons.
McCaffrey said he would convene a conference in Washington on March 23 to examine treatment in the criminal justice system.
"You've simply got to address compulsive drug-using behavior if you want to reduce crime in America," he said.
The report's researchers, led by Steven Belenko, drew upon an array of government documents, including Bureau of Justice statistics and Census Bureau surveys.
Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company