Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Factors Associated with Drug and Alcohol Dependency among Women in Prison

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Factors Associated with Drug and Alcohol Dependency among Women in Prison

Article excerpt

Drug and alcohol use have been found to be important correlates of criminal offending. The Drug Use Careers of Offenders (DUCO) studies found high levels of drug and alcohol dependency among women, men and juveniles incarcerated in Australian prisons. Offenders also reported a range of negative life experiences related to their drug and alcohol abuse. The DUCO female study offers an opportunity to explore the interconnections between drug and alcohol problems experienced by family members, other life experiences of the women offenders, and drug and alcohol dependency at the time of arrest. Results show correlations between family drug and alcohol problems and the perpetration of child abuse. A range of other negative life experiences were associated with growing up in families with drug and alcohol problems, including early onset of criminal offending, drug and alcohol dependency, and low socioeconomic status at the time of arrest. These results suggest that early intervention with families of drug users is needed in order to break the intergenerational cycle of problem drug and alcohol use including alcohol dependency which is a more prevalent problem among Indigenous women prisoners. Prison programming and aftercare for women offenders with drug or alcohol dependencies should be designed to consider the needs of their children.

Toni Makkai

Director

The family is one of the most important influences on the development of drug use problems. Families where illegal drugs are used are frequently characterised by neglect and poor supervision of children, inconsistent discipline, poor child -parent attachment, family conflict and abuse, poor parental mental health, parental drug use and criminality, and social isolation (Mitchell et al. 2001 ; Spooner, Hall & Lynskey 2001). These harms raise the risk of criminal behaviour and drug use among the children of drug users.

Drug use is a key factor in criminal offending; therefore, the prevention of drug use has important implications for the prevention of crime (Makkai & Payne 2003; Prichard & Payne 2005; Willis & Rushforth 2003; Ekstrand 1 999; Denton 2001). The Drug Use Careers of Offenders (DUCO) female study, conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology in 2003, is the largest study of women prisoners in Australia to examine the interconnections between women's drug use histories, criminal histories and early life experiences (see Johnson 2004 for details). This study found that among these incarcerated women:

* 62 percent were regular drug users at the time of their arrest and 39 percent were regular users of multiple drug types

* 55 percent were dependent on drugs and 27 percent were dependent on alcohol

* 26 percent grew up in families with drug problems and 44 percent were raised in families with alcohol problems

* drug dependency was higher among women who experienced mental health problems and childhood abuse, and who were exposed to family members with drug problems in the family of origin.

The interconnections between family drug and alcohol problems, other negative life experiences and drug and alcohol dependency among women offenders require further exploration. This report examines these inter-relationships for 470 women incarcerated in six jurisdictions in Australia in the DUCO female study.

Links between family-related drug and alcohol problems and child abuse

Very general questions were included in the DUCO study regarding family-related drug and alcohol problems. Respondents were asked 'When you were growing up, did anyone in your family have a problem with drugs or alcohol?' One half of the imprisoned women in this study (52%) reported growing up in families where at least one family member had a drug or alcohol problem. Fathers/stepfathers and mothers/stepmothers were most commonly reported as alcohol abusers (28% and 14% of incarcerated women, respectively) . …

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