Study Says Jail-Based Methadone Programs Reduce Recidivism
Did you know…
- 6 million people are released from jails and prison each year in the U.S.
- Within 3 years of release, 66 percent of these people are rearrested and more than 50 percent end up incarcerated again.
- The U.S. spends more than $80 billion each year housing inmates. Estimated societal costs of crime are $1.7 trillion annually.
But how does this relate to jail-based methadone programs?
There is a well-documented correlation between opioid use and the criminal justice system.
- Nearly 66 percent of people who are incarcerated have a history of substance use disorder.
- A higher percentage of drug offenders are rearrested within 3 years of their release than other demographics.
- Former inmates are 10-40 times more likely to die of opioid overdose due to loss of tolerance while incarcerated and the increased availability of powerful synthetic opioids.
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A Look at Jail-Based Methadone Programs
Researchers developed a study to examine the advantages that jail-based methadone programs could offer.
The researchers’ goal was “to evaluate the economic impact of jail-based MMT (methadone maintenance treatment) continuation, using crime as the main economic outcome variable.”
In short, would research support the idea that jail-based methadone programs could:
- Help break the cycle of opioid use and reincarceration (i.e., reduce recidivism), thereby reducing the impact that addiction and incarceration have on individuals’ lives
- Reduce the risk of death for opioid users who encounter the criminal justice system
- Change the resources needed from expensive punitive programs (i.e., jails and prisons) to more affordable and, in theory, more effective drug addiction programs
To get answers to these questions, the researchers used data from a jail in New Mexico.
Here’s what they found:
Researchers examined data from a six-year time period. This span covered three-year periods before and after the incarceration of 1,500 inmates.
On average, the inmates spent six weeks in jail-based methadone programs. The inmates included quasi-control groups made up of general populations and those who used substances.
The study provided answers to several important questions, including the following:
- Q: Do jail-based methadone programs reduce the number of days in jail due to recidivism?
- A: Yes. Inmates who were enrolled spent “significantly fewer days in jail due to recidivism than inmates who had opioid use disorder and hadn’t received MMT (methadone maintenance treatment).”
- Q: How much does one day of jailtime cost per inmate?
- A: The study showed that the cost of housing an inmate per day was $116.49.
- Q: How much do jail-based methadone programs cost per inmate?
- A: The average cost of MMT was $115 per week and $689 per episode.
- Q: How much is the cost to reduce recidivism?
- A: The study found that the public cost to reduce recidivism was $23.49 per day.
So, what do these results tell us? Well, if it costs $116.49 per day to incarcerate someone, but only $23.49 per day to prevent future days of incarceration, not only does that expense make sense on a human level, it also makes sense on a public health level.
Based on these results, the researchers “suggest that jail administrators and policymakers consider incorporating MMT in other jail systems and settings.”
The Study Limitations
As with any study, additional research is needed to explore the topic further. The study’s lead author, Brady Horn, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Economics and at the Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse & Addictions at the University of New Mexico, explained:
“Because we only have data drawn from a sample of the population, we can only be 93.3 percent sure that the observed recidivism results were a result of the MMT (methadone maintenance treatment) program and did not occur by chance.”
The study authors also emphasized that the inmates included in this research were in a jail rather than prison. Jail inmates are usually awaiting trial or serving a shorter sentence for minor crimes. Prison inmates face longer-term incarceration, which could affect results.
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Additional Research on Jail-Based Methadone Programs
What about other research? So far, other similar studies have delivered mixed results.
One study found that jail-based methadone programs had no observable effect on recidivism. But the researchers involved in that study noted several weaknesses in the study method.
Another more recent study looked at recidivism rates one year after release and found that jail-based methadone programs did decrease the rate of reincarceration.
Authors of the New Mexico study recommend future research to with stronger comparison groups. For future research, they suggest:
- Using comparison groups that include several different criminal justice systems
- Measuring other societal benefits that could result from jail-based methadone programs, not just recidivism
- Extending the study to evaluate the impact of jail-based methadone initiation
While research on the benefits of jail-based methadone programs is in the early stages, methadone maintenance treatment has proven benefits for many other demographics.
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