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Stopping the Revolving Door of the Criminal Justice System

ONDCP is taking unprecedented steps to break the cycle of drug use and crime, and reform the criminal justice system, including supporting treatment and intervention, alternatives to incarceration, and reentry services.

The revolving door of our Nation’s criminal justice system is one of the most significant challenges we face in reducing the devastating consequences of drug use.  In 2009, nearly seven million individuals were under supervision of the state and Federal criminal justice systems and approximately two million of these individuals were incarcerated for their crimes, while the remaining five million were on probation or parole.  While both the Federal and state correctional systems are addressing this challenge, states generally shoulder the burden of these costs.  In fact, between 1988 and 2009, state corrections spending increased from $12 billion to $52 billion per year. 

Further illustrating the severity of this problem are data showing that among state prisoners who were dependent on or abusing drugs, 53 percent had at least three prior sentences to probation or incarceration, compared to 32 percent of other inmates.  In fact, drug dependent or abusing state prisoners (48 percent) were also more likely than other inmates (37 percent) to have been on probation or parole supervision at the time of their arrest. 

Clearly, there is an urgent need to reform the way our criminal justice system approaches drug use and substance use disorders.  The Obama Administration is taking unprecedented action to prevent Americans from becoming involved in drug use and crime, and provide a continuum of interventions, treatment, alternatives to incarceration, and reentry support for those that do. 

In the 2011 National Drug Control Strategy,ONDCP outlines steps to implement variousinterventions to address the needs of drug-involved offenders, while also ensuring the safety of the community.  Our goal is to integrate these approaches throughout the justice process:  at arrest, in jail, in the courts, while incarcerated, or upon release back into the community.  Our policies also place a special emphasis on the impact of drug use and crime on several targeted populations, including women and families, active duty military and their families, and veterans.

Breaking this cycle also includes implementing innovative and evidence-based alternatives to incarceration for drug-involved offenders.  These include Drug Market Interventions (DMI) to disrupt open-air drug markets; Drug and Veterans Treatment Courts designed to effectively treat the substance abuse and mental health disorders of adults, young people, and Veterans in the system; smart probation strategies, like Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE), to use existing community supervision mechanisms to address probationers’ underlying substance abuse issues; improved service delivery behind the walls of jail and prison; and reentry support to ensure that offenders don’t return to drug use and crime once released.

We know that these actions, taken in partnership with support for innovative programs like Drug Market Interventions, Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation and Enforcement (HOPE) program and Drug and Veterans Treatment Courts, represent a smarter way to invest in our criminal justice system.