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Criminal Justice

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Societies do not have to choose between high levels of incarceration and high crime rates. Crime and incarceration can be reduced simultaneously by adopting better addiction-focused policies. SNAP’s criminal justice initiative disseminates effective policies based on scientific findings about how people make decisions to consume addictive drugs, how those drugs change behavior in the short and long terms, and how addicted criminal offenders respond to different correctional programs.

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Extended interview transcript

Criminal Justice

Scope of the Problem:

Most of the 2.2 million Americans incarcerated in jails or prisons meet medical criteria for an alcohol and/or other drug use disorder.

Over a million Americans a year are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and/or other drugs.

Between one-quarter  to one-third  of people who commit property and violent crime  under the influence of alcohol and/or other drugs at the time.

Challenges in Policy and Practice:

Learning to change addictive behavior is difficult. Change is most likely to occur when a person receives consistent, prompt responses to their behavior.  The criminal justice system, however, is usually inconsistent and slow.

Addiction lessens self-control, shortens time perspective, and alters how people make decisions. Punishments far off in time (e.g., increasing a mandatory minimum sentence from 5 to 10 years) rarely motivate them.

Parole and probation are often implemented with insufficient support for and monitoring of addicted individuals.

Addiction persists in the brain beyond a period of forced abstinence during incarceration. Leaving a correctional facility with an untreated, unmonitored addiction increases the risk of recidivism and of overdose.