Academic journal article Alcohol Research

Screening and Brief Intervention in the Criminal Justice System

Academic journal article Alcohol Research

Screening and Brief Intervention in the Criminal Justice System

Article excerpt

A large proportion of offenders in the criminal justice system have alcohol-related problems. Therefore, it makes sense to implement alcohol screening and brief intervention programs for people in this setting, particularly for impaired driving offenders, who are likely to be alcohol dependent. Although most States mandate screening for impaired drivers, not much effort has been put forth to determine how the screening process could be improved and expanded to the entire criminal justice population. For example, more research is needed on the potential therapeutic benefit of the screening process and on how brief motivational interventions could be incorporated into this process to improve outcomes. To address this, more emphasis should be placed on developing and implementing national standards for screening programs in the criminal justice system, evaluating existing programs, and assuring that these programs provide adequate treatment services to offenders. KEY WORDS: offender; prison inmate; correctional system and facility; parolee; criminality; recidivism; violence; alcohol use disorders; alcohol use and dependence; intoxication; drinking and driving; impaired drivers; comorbidity; identification and screening; self-report; brief intervention; interview; motivational interviewing; treatment; barriers to treatment; prison-based prevention; literature review

Alcohol misuse1 not only is linked to multiple health problems but also increases the potential for violent and criminal behavior. In fact, criminal activity is more closely linked to use of alcohol than to any other drug. For example, the 2002 National Crime Victimization Survey found that 21.6 percent of victims of violent crimes thought or knew the offender involved had consumed alcohol alone or together with other drugs, and an additional 1.5 percent of victims thought the offender had used either alcohol or other drugs (AODs) (Bureau of Justice Statistics 2003). Other analyses found that about 40 percent of fatal motor vehicle crashes involved alcohol use (Bureau of Justice Statistics 1998). Moreover, about 40 percent of offenders on probation, in State prisons, or in local jails reported that they had been using alcohol at the time of their offense (Bureau of Justice Statistics 1998). The impact of alcohol use on U.S. crime rates is further emphasized by the large number of people arrested annually for driving while impaired (DWI). In 2001, there were 1.4 million DWI arrests, making this the number one crime, besides drug possession, for which Americans are arrested (NHTSA 2003).

These observations indicate that a large number of people in the criminal justice system (i.e., inmates and probationers) have alcohol-use problems that should be addressed to prevent recidivism. This article describes the scope of alcohol problems among criminal justice populations, summarizes current knowledge about alcohol screening programs with these populations, and reviews the existing literature on the usefulness of these programs. Brief intervention approaches used in the criminal justice system also are discussed. The article concludes with recommendations for improving the alcoholism treatment services offered to clients in the criminal justice system.


Physiological Factors

The association between alcohol use and criminal behavior is based at least in part on alcohol's diverse physiological effects. In lower amounts, alcohol has a stimulating effect, acting both directly and indirectly on the brain's pleasure center to induce a "high" that may motivate the drinker to consume more alcohol. As the person drinks more, however, alcohol begins to cause sedative and toxic effects, such as problems coordinating movements, longer reaction times, neurocognitive impairment (i.e., impaired judgment, attention problems, and mood changes), and perceptual distortion. In drinking drivers, impaired coordination and longer reaction times can contribute to traffic crashes; in other situations, cognitive impairment or perceptual distortions can increase the risk of other violent behaviors. …

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