NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Drug Treatment is a Crime Fighting Tool

"... this corresponded to an 18 percent reduction in crime attributable to a reduction in heroin use after treatment, a 33 percent reduction in crime attributable to a reduction in the use of other drugs, and a 9 percent reduction attributable to decreases in alcohol consumption."

In Drug Treatment as a Crime Fighting Tool (NBER Working Paper No. 9038) authors Mireia Jofre-Bonet and Jody Sindelar consider whether decreased drug use resulting from drug treatment programs reduces the number of days in a given month that inner-city drug users engage in crime for profit. The approximately 3,500 drug users who provided the data for this study were entering treatment at the time of their first interview. The participants were asked about their use of illicit drugs and alcohol, physical and mental health, family characteristics, criminal history, and socioeconomic and demographic characteristics. They were surveyed both on entering treatment and about seven months later. By that time, most had finished their treatment programs or had dropped out. The resulting data allowed the authors to compare changes in individual behavior before and after treatment for drug abuse.

The authors find that after drug treatment, "crime days per month" decreased by .78 for the sample as a whole, by .64 for those in outpatient treatment, and by .57 for those who were on parole. Before treatment, the crime days reported by each of those groups were 1.28, 1.31, and 1.04, respectively. For the full sample, this corresponded to an 18 percent reduction in crime attributable to a reduction in heroin use after treatment, a 33 percent reduction in crime attributable to a reduction in the use of other drugs, and a 9 percent reduction attributable to decreases in alcohol consumption. Overall, the authors find that "the crime reduction induced by reduced drug use and alcohol intake explains a very high percentage of the crime at the beginning of the treatment." For each single percent reduction in days spent using heroin, other drugs, and alcohol, crime days are reduced by 0.27 percent, 0.53 percent, and 0.14 percent, respectively.

The subgroup of people who reported committing crimes when their treatment began or at the follow-up interview also reported the most days of drug and alcohol use when they started treatment, and reported substantially more crime days in total (almost 11 in the last month). For this group, use of heroin, other drugs, and alcohol explained 15 percent, 21 percent, and 12 percent of the drop in crime days after treatment, respectively.

Outpatient drug treatment costs about $300 for counseling based treatment and $3,000 for a year of methadone treatment. A year in jail costs about $23,000. Thus, the authors conclude that treatment may be a cost-effective alternative for preventing crime by drug abusing individuals.

-- Linda Gorman


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