Untreated Mental Illness and Substance Abuse Among Inmates Increases Recidivism Rate
Untreated Mental Illness and Substance Abuse Among Inmates Increases Recidivism Rate

Untreated Mental Illness and Substance Abuse Among Inmates Increases Recidivism Rate

With the high cost of incarceration – anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 a year depending on the state – the recidivism rate of inmates is a hot topic of discussion. More and more, politicians and law enforcement officials are starting to understand what the medical community has known for a long time: inmates need treatment for substance abuse and for mental health problems if they’re going to get out of the system and stay out. When those issues are untreated, the recidivism rate – or rate of return to prison after release – only increases.

The Evidence

A study published in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry looked at more than 20,000 inmates from Philadelphia between 2003 and 2007. Researchers divided up the data according to four definitions: those who were struggling with substance abuse, inmates with severe mental illness, those who had both problems, and those who had neither issue.

The study found that 32 percent of all the inmates returned within the first year of release. In the second year, that number grew to 45 percent, and by the third year, it had grown to 54 percent. By the end of the study, after four years, the recidivism rate was at 60 percent for the entire group.

According to the four groups, those who struggled only with a severe mental health issue had the lowest return rate at 54 percent. Those who had both a mental health problem and an issue with substance abuse returned at a rate of 68 percent – the highest of all four groups. Those with only a substance abuse issue came in second with a return rate of 66 percent and those without either issue returned 60 percent of the time.

Revolving Door of Prison

Inmates with substance abuse issues and co-occurring mental health problems are the norm. So too is their return to prison after release – often within a year. Why? Because there is little to no support in prison for mental health treatment programs started on the outside and there is almost no substantive drug addiction treatment provided to inmates who need it. When they are released and return home, they are again faced with the same mental health issues, the same traumas of the past, the same stresses and triggers – and the same access to drugs and alcohol. The one difference? When they were in prison, they met people who advanced their knowledge of criminal activities and educated them on more avenues to get drugs. When they get out, they have access to these new resources as well as the old.

Drop Out of the Cycle 

If you or someone you care about is living with a mental health disorder and a substance abuse issue, contact us today. We can help you get the treatment you need to break the cycle of imprisonment. Call now.