Office of National Drug Control Policy

Criminal Justice Reform: Breaking the Cycle of Drug Use and Crime

The United States’ criminal justice system faces significant challenges.  Over the past twenty-five years, the U.S. prison and jail population reached an all-time high and the number of people on probation and parole doubled.  In 2009, nearly seven million individuals were under supervision of the state and Federal criminal justice systems.  Nearly two million of these individuals were incarcerated for their crimes, while the remaining five million were on probation or parole being supervised in the community.

While both the Federal and state correctional systems must address this issue, states generally bear the costs related to this population, and correctional spending has dramatically kept pace with the rising corrections population.  Between 1988 and 2009, state corrections spending increased from $12 billion to $52 billion per year. Despite these significant expenditures, far too many offenders return to drug use and crime upon their reentry into society.

In 2009, parole and other conditional release violators accounted for 33.1 percent of all prison admissions, 35.2 percent of state admissions, and 8.2 percent of Federal admissions.  Twenty-four percent of parolees ending supervision in 2009 (approximately 132,000 of 553,000) returned to prison as a result of violating their terms of supervision, and 9 percent of adults ending parole returned to prison as a result of a new conviction.

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. 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.  The 2010 ADAM II Survey found that anywhere from 52 percent (Washington, DC) to 80 percent or more (Chicago and Sacramento) of male arrestees tested positive for the presence of at least one drug at the time of their arrest.

The Administration’s National Drug Control Strategy supports comprehensive change within the criminal justice system.   ONDCP encourages the implementation of a continuum of evidence-based interventions to address the needs of the offender, while ensuring the safety of the community.   The goal is to integrate these approaches throughout the justice process (arrest, jail and pre-trial to sentencing, incarceration and release) with the key objective of matching the intensity of the intervention to the offender’s needs and criminal behavior.  The Administration is focusing efforts and resources on key activities and policy issues that will advance an effective and efficient criminal justice system. 

Learn more about the Administration’s efforts to improve the criminal justice system’s approach to drug-involved offenders:

Additional Resources: