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J Urban Health. 2018 Sep 6. doi: 10.1007/s11524-018-0308-9. [Epub ahead of print]

Drug Treatment Accessed through the Criminal Justice System: Participants' Perspectives and Uses.

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Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases, Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, CT, USA.
Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases, Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, CT, USA.
Keene, Social and Behavioral Sciences, Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, CT, USA.
Community Health and Prevention, Dornsife School of Public Health, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, USA.
Department of Sociology, American University, Washington, DC, USA.


The criminal justice system has become a major pathway to drug treatment across the USA. Millions of criminal justice dollars are spent on an array of treatment programs for justice-involved populations, from pre-sentence diversionary programs to outpatient services for those on community supervision. This study uses 235 qualitative, longitudinal interviews with 45 people convicted of drug offenses to describe participants' perspectives on criminal justice-related drug treatment (programs within correctional facilities; court, probation, or parole-ordered mandates and referrals; and self-referrals made with the goal of reducing criminal justice involvement), beyond discourses about help with addiction. Interviews took place in New Haven, CT, between 2011 and 2014 every 6 months, for a maximum of five interviews with each participant. Many participants who were referred to drug treatment did not consider these programs appropriate for their needs, as many did not perceive themselves to have a drug problem, or did not consider substance use to be their primary problem. Frustrations regarding the ill-fitting nature of mandated programs were coupled with theories about non-health-related policy goals of criminal justice-mandated drug treatment, such as prison overflow management and increased profit for the state. Nonetheless, participants used drug treatment to advance their own goals of coping with life's challenges, reducing their criminal justice system involvement, proving worthiness through rehabilitation, and accessing other resources. These participants' perspectives offer a wide lens through which to view the system of criminal justice-related drug treatment, a view that can guide us in critically evaluating provision of drug treatment and developing more effective systems of appropriate rehabilitative services for people who are justice involved.


Criminal justice system; Drug treatment; Justice-involved people; Qualitative research; Rehabilitation; Substance use


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