Academic journal article Journal of Drug Issues

Prediction of the Criminal Activity of Incarcerated Drug-Abusing Offenders

Academic journal article Journal of Drug Issues

Prediction of the Criminal Activity of Incarcerated Drug-Abusing Offenders

Article excerpt

This study examined self-report information from a structured interview on the drug use, employment status, drug distribution income, and criminal behavior of 188 drug-abusing offenders in the six months prior to the commission of the offense for which they were incarcerated. The purpose of the study was to determine the extent to which drug use and income-producing activity was related to the variety, frequency, and severity of criminal behavior during this six-month period. Results revealed that the major predictors of a greater variety of crime were male gender, fewer months employed, and a larger number of different drugs used; the major predictors of a greater frequency of crime were fewer months employed and greater cocaine use and drug distribution income; and the major predictors of a greater severity of crime were younger age and male gender. Interestingly, the use of marijuana in cases that did not involve opioid use was related to the commission of more violent crimes. Subsequent examination of this result revealed that violent activity was associated with the relatively high drug distribution income for those marijuana users who did not use opioids or cocaine. Implications of this and other findings for corrections planning and public policy are discussed.


Because the majority of more than one million prisoners presently incarcerated in the United States will ultimately be released into the community, obtaining comprehensive information on the factors associated with their criminal behavior prior to incarceration would be desirable for both research and crime control policy (Canela-Cacho, Blumstein, & Cohen, 1997). While extensive self-report data have revealed that prisoners' levels of illicit drug use (especially the use of heroin and cocaine) in the mid to late 1990s were substantially higher than in previous years (Stojkovic & Lovell, 1997), recent self-report data have not been available with regard to the variety, amount, and severity of criminal behavior of incarcerated offenders with a history of drug use, despite the proven usefulness of such data on earlier cohorts of prisoners (Canela-Cacho et al.).

In their seminal study, Chaiken and Chaiken (1982) obtained confidential selfreport data on over 2,000 male inmates in 1978 and 1979 and found that (1 ) a small percentage of inmates identified as violent predators were responsible for most of the crime - particularly serious crime committed over a one- to two-year period prior to the instant offense; and (2) data on an inmate's drug abuse history (precocious, frequent, and persistent drug abuse, including heroin addiction) were more likely than official arrest data to be related to the seriousness and extent of criminal activity. Approximately 90% of inmates considered to be violent predators (a classification including those inmates most likely to have histories of heroin addiction and/or multiple drug use) had never been arrested for drug distribution, assault, and robbery, which were their most characteristic offenses (Chaiken & Chaiken, 1982).

In the introduction to their work examining the variety, frequency, and severity of criminal behavior, Chaiken and Chaiken (1982) provided a particularly compelling case for the usefulness of such data in helping the criminal justice system distinguish among, and develop appropriate interventions for, different types of offenders. Commenting on public officials' need for a single, encompassing policy that would allow them to deal quickly and effectively with criminals, Chaiken and Chaiken aptly noted that " important truth has almost been lost during these developments: there are many varieties of criminals, and any single punitive solution to the problem of crime is not only simplistic and unjust but also inefficient" (1982, p. 1).

Two decades later, now that the criminal justice system has become even more severely overburdened and is "awash with drug-involved offenders" (Lipton, 1998, p. …

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