Zarkin GA, Cowell AJ, Hicks KA, Mills MJ, Belenko S, Dunlap LJ, Houser KA, Keyes V. Benefits and costs of substance abuse treatment programs for state prison inmates: results from a lifetime simulation model. Health Econ. 2012 Jun;21(6):633-52.

Reflecting drug use patterns and criminal justice policies throughout the 1990s and 2000s, prisons hold a disproportionate number of society's drug abusers. Approximately 50% of state prisoners meet the criteria for a diagnosis of drug abuse or dependence, but only 10% receive medically based drug treatment. Because of the link between substance abuse and crime, treating substance abusing and dependent state prisoners while incarcerated has the potential to yield substantial economic benefits. In this paper, we simulate the lifetime costs and benefits of improving prison-based substance abuse treatment and post-release aftercare for a cohort of state prisoners. Our model captures the dynamics of substance abuse as a chronic disease; estimates the benefits of substance abuse treatment over individuals' lifetimes; and tracks the costs of crime and criminal justice costs related to policing, adjudication, and incarceration. We estimate net societal benefits and cost savings to the criminal justice system of the current treatment system and five policy scenarios. We find that four of the five policy scenarios provide positive net societal benefits and cost savings to the criminal justice system relative to the current treatment system. Our study demonstrates the societal gains to improving the drug treatment system for state prisoners.

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