CASA* Evaluation Finds Innovative Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison Program Reduces Crime, Prison Costs | Center on Addiction

CASA* Evaluation Finds Innovative Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison Program Reduces Crime, Prison Costs

CASA* Evaluation Finds Innovative Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison Program Reduces Crime, Prison Costs

WASHINGTON, D.C. March 11, 2003

Drug-addicted, non-violent felony offenders with five prior drug arrests and an average of four years behind bars achieved significantly lower recidivism rates and higher employment rates through a drug treatment program than comparable offenders who were sent to prison, according to findings published in the white paper, Crossing the Bridge: An Evaluation of the Drug Treatment Alternative-to-Prison (DTAP) Program, released today by CASAColumbia (CASA*) at Columbia University. These results were achieved at about half the cost of incarceration, the CASA evaluation found. The five year evaluation was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“This DTAP program demonstrates that we don't have to throw away the key for repeat drug addicted offenders, even those who sell drugs to support their habit. Prosecutors can help repeat felony offenders become responsible citizens if they combine treatment and vocational training with the certainty of punishment for noncompliance,” says Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA President and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. “In this time of burgeoning prison populations and shrinking federal and state budgets, every prosecutor in the nation can follow the lead of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes and try this program. DTAP offers prosecutors the same kind of effective alternative to incarceration that drug courts offer judges.”

The DTAP program provides 15 to 24 months of residential drug treatment, vocational training, and social and mental health services to drug-addicted, nonviolent repeat offenders who face mandatory punishment under New York State's second felony offender law. Participants are abusers of heroin, crack and powder cocaine among other substances. They plead guilty to a felony, thereby ensuring a mandatory prison sentence if they abscond from the program. Sentencing is deferred upon program participation; if participants complete the program, their guilty plea is withdrawn and the charges dismissed.

The CASA evaluation found that participants who completed the program and graduated were 33% less likely to be rearrested, 45% less likely to be reconvicted, and 87% less likely to return to prison, than the comparable prison group.

DTAP graduates were 3 ½ times more likely to be employed after graduation than before their arrest. Before their arrest, 26% were working either part-time or full-time. Following successful completion of the program, 92% had found employment.

DTAP participants remain in treatment 6 times longer than individuals in other long-term residential treatment (a median of 17.8 months compared to 3 months). Retention rates are important because the longer an individual stays in treatment, the greater their chance of maintaining sobriety. “This program in which failure is a one-way ticket to prison shows the effectiveness of coerced treatment,” says Califano.

These results are achieved at about half the cost of incarceration. The average cost for each DTAP participant of residential drug treatment, vocational training and support services was $32,975 compared to an average cost of $64,338 for the time spent in prison for DTAP participants who dropped out.

DTAP was developed in 1990 by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes in response to the number of drug-addicted offenders in Kings County. The 1998 CASA report Behind Bars: Substance Abuse and America's Prison Population revealed that 80% of the men and women behind bars in the U.S. were seriously involved with drugs and alcohol. That year, states spent nearly $30 billion on the adult corrections system, $24.1 billion of which was spent on substance-involved offenders making substance abuse the number one contributor to crime in America.

“With the advent of this innovative and effective program, Charles J. Hynes sets an example for prosecutors nationwide,” says Califano. “Fifteen prosecutors in New York State have already replicated DTAP. I encourage every prosecutor in the country to try it to reduce crime, the cost of incarceration and budget deficits.”

CASAColumbia (CASA) at Columbia University is the only national organization that brings together under one roof all the professional disciplines needed to study and combat all types of substance abuse as they affect all aspects of society. CASA's missions are to: inform Americans of the economic and social costs of substance abuse and its impact on their lives; assess what works in prevention, treatment and law enforcement; encourage every individual and institution to take responsibility to combat substance abuse and addiction; provide those on the front lines with tools they need to succeed; and remove the stigma of substance abuse and replace shame and despair with hope.

With a staff of 79 professionals, CASA has conducted demonstration projects in 89 sites in 41 cities and 22 states focused on children, families and schools, and has been testing the effectiveness of drug and alcohol treatment, monitoring 15,000 individuals in more than 200 programs and 5 drug courts in 26 states. CASA is the creator of the nationwide Family Day initiative—the fourth Monday in September—that promotes parental engagement as a simple and effective way to reduce children’s risk of smoking, drinking and using illegal drugs. Visit

*CASAColumbia at Columbia University is neither affiliated with, nor sponsored by, the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (also known as "CASA") or any of its member organizations with the name of "CASA."


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