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Drug Offenders: Punishment vs Rehabiliation

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 1694 words Published: 18th May 2020

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Drug offenders that are nonthreatening should be treated instead of punished.  Research shows that incarceration does not deter drug offenders from committing more crimes.  In order to help the offenders change their ways, they need to be in rehab and treatment centers. In the past, rehabilitation was a big part of the justice system but has taken the back seat to punishment and mental health crisis. Rehabilitation can save the justice system prison space and money by changing drug offenders’ habits that cause them to relapse.

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History shows that rehabilitation was previously a key part of the U.S. prison policies. “Until the mid-1970s, prisoners were encouraged to develop occupational skills and to resolve psychological problems that might interfere with their reintegration into society.”(apa) Currently, the three-strike rule has resulted in a punishment mindset; changing rehabilitation to lesser role behind incarceration.  In addition to the punishment mindset, psychologists did not have a lot of information to report on inmates, so rehabilitation took a back seat to punishment.  However, in the past 25 years a lot of research has been gathered as prison populations have increased.  “The findings suggest that individual-centered approaches to crime prevention need to be complemented by community-based approaches.”  For example, matching or teaching a skill set to prepare for jobs in the community

Rehabilitation is used as a long-term solution for offenders to seek help to change their habits. Rehabilitation “when properly implemented, work programs, education and psychotherapy can ease prisoners’ transitions to the free world.” (APA). When locking up thousands and thousands of people for drug crimes it has not ended up keeping the public safe. Punishment is used deter offenders from committing crimes. Punishment is usually given with prison time and then parole. If the offender has good behavior, they can get out earlier and go on parole. Punishment acts as a short-term solution because if the offender gets a lot of time, then their opportunity for parole is far away.  Likewise, if a felon is sentenced with the death penalty, the appeal can take years and years and if it is carried out, might be decades from the original crime.

For punishments there are two main types of deterrence which are general and specific deterrence (Banks). General deterrence means that it persuades people to not commit crimes based on one person’s punishment. The people being punished are an example to the youth and adults to not commit crimes in general because you will pay the consequences. Specific deterrence is a method used to deter one person from committing a crime again. This means that the person is punished to make them not commit another crime because of their fear of getting another prison sentence.

Prisons are so overwhelmed with mental health issues, that there are not enough resources for rehabilitation. Drug offenders need more one on one attention and resources than they receive for there to be progress in their rehabilitation. “Psychologists in the criminal justice system have enormous caseloads; they’re struggling not to be overwhelmed by the tide.”(APA.org). Secure rehabilitation centers could provide better opportunities for non-violent drug offenders instead of housing them with other criminals like murderers, rapists, and robbers.

As a result of the punishment mindset for correction systems, it is difficult for drug offenders to recover and rehabilitate. Researchers say that “a combination of strict sentencing guidelines, budget shortfalls and a punitive philosophy of corrections has made today’s prisons much less likely to rehabilitate their inhabitants–than in the past.” (Apa.org) Instead of negative experience drug offender could have a positive outcome putting out more working adults in general. Incarceration is known to be a public safety strategy however when the drug offenders return into society, they can often be angry.  For instance, this may cause the drug offenders to want to cause problems and start selling even more.

 If drug offenders were punished with rehabilitation instead of jail time it would re-enforce good behavior that would help offenders’ transition into the real world and drop bad habits. This way the justice system would have a lot of less people in it. With drug offenders if they get prison time and go on parole, they most likely will go back to drugs.  That cycle of drug use, jail time, and then parole is a drain on the justice system and never really addresses the problem or solves it.  If they could rehabilitate it would cost more money, but they have a better chance not going back to jail. Rehabilitation could save money but also save people’s lives.

There are studies that have looked at the effects of policy initiatives like police crackdowns on drug markets, but that they only offer temporary effects (sage pub).  In some cases, incarceration can be an effective deterrent for drug offenders, but it may also not be. If we looked at drug offenders individually for instance if they have any background history of selling or if they have only been brought in this one time. That could help filter out who needs treatment and who does not.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons last updated August 3rd, 2019 drug offense make up 42.5% of offenses (BOP). A little below half of the offenders are drug offenders. If there was a way to provide them with rehab and therapy in could save their life, incarceration takes them away from family and jobs. If they were able to come back to their family’s drug free it would be a great benefit of rehabilitation.

 The amount of money to treat drug abuse was estimated to be around $14.6 billion, which is only a fraction of the cost to society of $193 billion (NIDA). The cost to send drug offenders for treatment is a portion of what it is to incarcerate, and it has positive effects upon society. For instance, positive effects on the economy with more productivity and work flow. One of the biggest positive effects is the decrease of crime.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse has developed 13 principals for the treatment of criminal populations that not only identify drug abuse as a disease of the brain that requires treatment over a period of time and tailored to fit the individual. Because repeated use of drugs eventually changes how the brain functions, it should be no surprise that it takes time to heal and resume appropriate behaviors.

 Studies have suggested that drug abuse treatment, either initiated by self or as a legal punishment, has approximately the same outcomes.  Those required to participate under legal pressure usually have higher attendance and will participate for longer periods.

When deciding if it is worth providing treatment to drug abusers, society must consider the ever-increasing costs of crime, its impact on the justice system, and its impact of the

victims of crime. “In 2007, it was estimated that the cost to society of drug abuse was $193

billion.” (drugabuse.gov) Another principal identified in treating criminal drug users is that treatment must last for a significant time to be effective.  A minimum of 3 months is suggested to teach new skills, breaking the patterns that initially started the problem behavior.  A combination of treatments and therapies can offer constructive social skills and surviving strategies.

When the drug offender is a woman, they might require even more services which adds to the cost and strain on the system.  Females are more likely to require medical care, child care, housing and employment services.   They are more likely to be abused and suffer domestic violence.  By offering gender specific programs to women, like child care and parenting classes, the impact may be felt for generations.  We must break the cycle of drug abuse and its impact on society to successfully combat drug abuse.

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For drug offender’s incarceration has proved to not be economically smart or effective. It costs more than half as much for offenders to be incarcerated instead of rehabilitated. Rehabilitation has shown to be good for offenders, their family, the justice system and society. To not use rehabilitation to drug offenders who are not threatening would not be smart on anyone’s part. With the amount of research and data psychologists have collected helps showcase how beneficial rehab would be. Prisons are overflowing and to have a separate area for just drug offenders to recover would do a lot for the country’s economy and the people.


  • Banks, C. A. (2004). The Purpose of Criminal Punishment [Chapter 5]. In Ethics and the Criminal Justice System (pp. 103-126). Retrieved from https://www.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/5144_Banks_II_Proof_Chapter_5.pdf
  • Benson, E. (2003). Rehabilitate or punish? American Pyschological Association, 7(July/August), 46-47. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug03/rehab
  • Fletcher, B. W., & Chandler, R. K. (2014, April). Principles of Drug Abuse Treatment for Criminal Justice Populations. Retrieved from www.drugabuse.gov website: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-abuse-treatment-criminal-justice-populations/principles
  • Rich, J. D., Wakeman, S. E., & Dickman, S. L. (2011). Medicine and the Epidemic of Incarceration in the United States. The New England Journal of Medicine, 364(22), 2081-2083. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMp1102385


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