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Breaking the addictive cycle of the system: improving US criminal justice practices to address substance use disorders

Albert M. Kopak (Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC, USA)

International Journal of Prisoner Health

ISSN: 1744-9200

Article publication date: 16 March 2015



Recent political commentary in the USA has suggested that there is great potential for current criminal justice practices designed for drug-involved offenders to be significantly overhauled in the near future. It is imperative to plan for these changes by assessing how well current programs serve drug-involved criminal justice populations. The paper aims to discuss these issues.


This critical assessment begins with an overview of the most recent research on the prevalence and impact that substance use disorders have within the criminal justice system. Although the evidence demonstrates that relying on incarceration as a crime control method for drug-involved offenders has many shortcomings, there are innovative new programs being adopted across the country. Two of these promising programs are discussed, as well as the potential results that could be realized from integrating medication assisted treatment into appropriate criminal justice programs designed for drug-involved offenders.


Incarceration is a failed practice for attending to the underlying reasons why many drug-involved offenders become involved in criminal activities. There are encouraging new programs emerging in different parts of the USA, but the inclusion of supplemental treatment options could further promote positive outcomes.


The impending expansion of criminal justice programs for drug-involved offenders must consider how innovative new programs can be fused with supplemental treatment options to achieve the best results.



The author thanks the attendees of the 2014 Rutgers University Summer School of Addiction Studies (SSAS) for their helpful comments on an early draft of this paper. The thoughts expressed here are purely those of the author and do not reflect the viewpoints of those who provided feedback.


Kopak, A.M. (2015), "Breaking the addictive cycle of the system: improving US criminal justice practices to address substance use disorders", International Journal of Prisoner Health, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 4-16.



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