The Long and Winding Road to Desistance from Crime for Drug-Involved Offenders: The Long-Term Influence of Tc Treatment on Re-Arrest

Article excerpt

Earlier research by Inciardi and colleagues established the long-term positive effects of a therapeutic community (TC) continuum of treatment for drug-involved offenders. Using data from his original longitudinal study and archival records of criminal justice re-arrest and recidivism, this paper extends these analyses to examine the effects of TC treatment on the long-term success of offenders, up to 18 years after release from prison. Multivariate trajectory analysis is used to examine patterns of re-arrest and desistance among a sample of 1363 clients followed up in person for five years and subsequently with record checks through state and NCIC criminal justice systems. Results indicate significant reductions in new arrests for those who received TC treatment in each of the five trajectories modeled for patterns of persistence and desistance. Discussion centers on the strengths of the relationships in each modeled trajectory and the implications for long-term understanding of drug offenders and criminal behavior.

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The linkages between drug abuse and crime have been well documented, and several decades of field-based research have provided a general understanding of various aspects of the drugs/crime connection (Anglin & Perrochet, 1998; Inciardi, 1979; Inciardi & Martin, 1993; Inciardi & Pottieger, 1998; Inciardi & Surratt, 2001; Johnson et al., 1985; Nurco, 1998). Together, the overall findings suggest that, while the use of illegal drugs does not necessarily initiate criminal careers, drug use does intensify and perpetuate criminal activity.

A concomitant of drug-related criminality and the "war on drugs" since the 1 980s has been the increased numbers of drug-involved offenders coming to the attention of the criminal justice system. In 2008, about 2.3 million people were in prison or jail in the United States, and another 5 million people under probation or parole supervision, with the majority previously incarcerated at some time (West, Sabol, & Cooper, 2009). Estimates suggest that at least two-thirds of the over 700,000 inmates who leave U.S. prisons each year had substance abuse or dependence problems prior to custody (Karberg & James, 2005; Mumola, 1999). Thus, the treatment and transition of drug-involved inmates back to the community is a critical issue for public health and public safety.

It is also clear that both drug use and recidivism are "relapsing" conditions for most offenders - typically involving more than one period of drug use and recovery and more than one brush with the law and incarceration (Leukefeld, Tims, & Farabee, 2002; Rawlings & Yates, 2001; Springer, McNeece, & Arnold, 2003). For a few offenders, one "dose" of treatment and/or incarceration is sufficient for achieving full recovery. For many others, though still a minority, the pattern of relapse is only ended by disease, death, or long-term incarceration. Many offenders, however, experience a confluence of treatment, social support, maturation, and/or health warnings that eventually result in a subsidence or cessation of drug use, and less or no new involvement with the criminal justice system.

There has been much discussion and some evidence pointing to the role of factors such as aging out, the adoption of normative roles (family, employment), and the provision of resources (education, job training) in the likelihood of decreased drug involvement and criminal desistance (Giordano et al., 2002; Laub & Sampson, 2003; Sampson & Laub, 2003). Yet most of these studies of long-term desistance looked at earlier cohorts of offenders, predominantly white, and less drug involved than those of recent offender cohorts. However, there is evidence for the success of treatment programs, particularly therapeutic community (TC) models within the correctional system for producing reasonably long-term effects in both drug use and criminal desistance with more current cohorts of offenders - those with higher

minority status, less opportunities, and particularly opportunities circumscribed by their substance use involvement. …