Article  |  Offenders

Drug-addicted offenders and treatment needs in Illinois

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Research has clearly and consistently documented the connection between drug use and criminal offending. Individuals who use illegal drugs are more likely to commit crimes while they are under the influence.1 Nearly 75 percent of the 2.3 million prison inmates in the United States meet criteria for substance abuse or addiction.2

Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program (ADAM) is a federally-funded research program that collects information on drug use from juvenile and adult arrestees booked into detention or jail. 2013 ADAM data collection occurred in five U.S. counties, including Cook, with detention and jail sites named by each county’s primary city. Data collected by the program showed 75 percent of adult male arrestees in a Chicago sample tested positive for illicit drugs in 2013, which is more than the 60 percent collectively testing positive in 10 other ADAM programs across the country.3 The majority of Chicago arrestees tested positive for marijuana (56 percent), while 18 percent tested positive for cocaine, 14 percent tested positive for opiates, and less than 1 percent tested positive for methamphetamine.4

Statistics show that most offenders who commit drug offenses are also drug users. According to 2013 ADAM data, nearly 90 percent of Chicago offenders arrested for drug possession offenses and 84 percent arrested for drug distribution offenses tested positive for at least one drug. As ADAM data indicates, it is likely that a high percentage of those entering state prisons for drug law violations have previous drug use histories. According to the Illinois Department of Corrections, 9,237 inmates, or 19 percent of the prison population, were incarcerated for violations of the Controlled Substance Act or the Cannabis Control Act in 2014.5 Another 7,782 Illinois parolees, or 28 percent of the total 2014 parolee population, were on parole for violations of those Acts (Figure 1).6

Source: ADAM and Illinois Department of Corrections

Treatment programs for offenders

Treatment plays a critical role in reducing offender drug abuse and criminal recidivism. Research shows offenders who participate in community-based drug treatment programs commit fewer crimes than those who do not participate. The largest benefit of treatment is found in reduced victimization and costs of incarceration.7

Community-based treatment: Drug courts

More than 60 drug courts in Illinois aim to divert low-level offenders with substance abuse disorders from a prison term by allowing them to participate in community-based treatment. Teams of probation officers, treatment providers, prosecutors, law enforcement, defense attorneys, and judges monitor offender participation. Most Illinois drug courts require offenders to plead guilty and waive their rights to a trial, but once the offender successfully meets drug court requirements, including regular and frequent drug testing, their charges may be dismissed. The judge may impose a traditional sentence if the requirements are not met. Multiple studies and meta-analyses have concluded that drug court programs reduce recidivism and are cost effective.8

Prison-based treatment

In state fiscal year 2014, 45 percent of the 28,612 Illinois Department of Corrections inmates screened for substance abuse upon prison entry were deemed in need of treatment. Of the 12,940 inmates in need of treatment services, just 6,500, or 50 percent, received them.

Illinois is not the only state lacking inmate substance abuse treatment options. A survey of state and federal prisoners showed while half met criteria for drug abuse or dependence, fewer than 20 percent received treatment.9 Only 15 percent of state and 17 percent of federal prisoners reported having received drug treatment since admission.10

Obstacles to treatment continue for substance dependent offenders upon their release from prison. Offenders re-entering the community typically experience high rates of unemployment resulting in a lack of health insurance, presenting another barrier to treatment.11 A study of drug users in New York cited lack of insurance or Medicaid as one of the main reasons for not enrolling in substance abuse treatment.12 Other barriers included scheduling difficulties and long waiting periods for treatment availability.13

It is critical for criminal offenders to receive treatment to reduce both drug abuse and recidivism. Up to 75 percent of parolees in Illinois who leave prison without drug treatment for their addictions resume drug use within three months of release, and research has shown an offender’s risk of dying from a drug overdose is 129 times greater in the two weeks following release from prison than for the general public.14

The Sheridan Correctional Center operated by the Illinois Department of Corrections provides evidence-based substance abuse treatment and rehabilitative services to adult male inmates. Inmates receive intensive, prison-based, drug treatment along with vocational training, job preparation, mental health services, and a highly supervised and supportive reentry program. In 2014, 2,043 offenders were incarcerated and receiving treatment at Sheridan. A 2011 study of Sheridan prison graduates found a three-year recidivism rate of 43 percent, lower than the 50 percent recidivism rate of a comparison group. Graduates who continued to receive services after returning home had a 32 percent recidivism rate.15

The Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center Meth Prison and Reentry Program is a 200-bed dedicated methamphetamine addiction recovery program. Inmates undergo highly intensive methamphetamine treatment and participate in a community reentry program to combat addiction and reduce recidivism. Inmates receive vocational training, job preparation, mental health services, and continued treatment as they transition back into the community. A 2011 study showed inmates who successfully completed reentry aftercare had a 48 percent lower likelihood of recidivating than a comparison group.16

Funding limitations

Drug treatment programs have become less accessible due to funding limitations at local, state, and federal levels. Illinois experienced a dramatic decrease in available treatment programs between 2007 and 2012, with Illinois ranking at the bottom—44th out of 46 states for state-funded treatment capacity in 2012.17 State funding for addiction treatment decreased 24 percent from 2007 to 2015 (Figure 2). These cuts particularly impact those in low socio-economic areas, including many in the criminal justice system, who rely on state-funded treatment centers for help.

Data source: Illinois Department of Human Services, Budget Briefing
Note: General revenue funds only

Implications for policy and practice

Maintain and expand drug court programs

Drug court programs should be maintained and, where possible, expanded in Illinois as an effective alternative to incarceration. Drug courts are evidence-based, proven to reduce recidivism and save taxpayer money.18 Drug courts offer offenders the opportunity to remain in their communities while accessing needed treatment and services and prevent longer-term consequences associated with a felony drug conviction.

Expand in-patient treatment and aftercare

Intensive in-prison treatment with aftercare planning, such as that used at Sheridan, should be expanded. Prison-based substance abuse treatment programs that include aftercare components are proven best practices in curbing offender drug abuse and recidivism. Sheridan prison graduates who completed or were still enrolled in aftercare showed the lowest recidivism rates of the three comparison groups—inmates with similar characteristics and backgrounds released from other Illinois prisons during the same time period; inmates who were removed or dropped out of the Sheridan program; and Sheridan graduates who did not complete aftercare.19 This finding is consistent with other research; one study of a California prison showed that 75 percent of those not involved in the treatment program returned to prison while only 27 percent of prisoners who received treatment and aftercare post-release were re-incarcerated.20

Conduct research to better understand the population

More data and research are needed on the drug-addicted offender population in Illinois. Few resources are available detailing the problem of substance abuse within the criminal justice population. Additional data, such as the number of substance-dependent arrestees, probationers, and inmates, would assist in development of more targeted and cost-effective solutions.

Evaluate programs for effectiveness

All substance-abuse treatment should be evaluated for effectiveness. Scarce state resources should be devoted to evidence-based programming. Programs serving offending populations should be evaluated to determine whether the programming offered reduces substance use as well as re-offending. Funding for programs or practices not proven to reduce substance use or re-offending should be discontinued.


  1. Fletcher, B. (2014). Principles of drug abuse treatment for criminal justice populations: A research-based guide. Bethesda, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  2. Foster, S. (2010). Behind bars II: Substance abuse and America’s prison population. New York, NY: The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
  3. ADAM II tests for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines, PCP, benzodiazepines, buprenorphine, methadone, barbiturates, and oxycodone.; Office of National Drug Control Policy (2014). 2013 annual report, Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program II. Washington, DC: Executive Office of the President.
  4. Office of National Drug Control Policy (2014). 2013 annual report, Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program II. Washington, DC: Executive Office of the President.
  5. Illinois Department of Corrections, (2015). Fiscal Year 2014 annual report. Springfield, Illinois, author.
  6. Illinois Department of Corrections, (2015). Fiscal Year 2014 annual report. Springfield, Illinois, author.
  7. Fletcher, B. (2014). Principles of drug abuse treatment for criminal justice populations: A research-based guide. Bethesda, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  8. Marlowe, D. (2010). Research update on adult drug courts. Alexandria, VA: National Association of Drug Court Professionals.
  9. Fletcher, B. (2014). Principles of drug abuse treatment for criminal justice populations: A research-based guide. Bethesda, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health.
  10. Fletcher, B. (2014). Principles of drug abuse treatment for criminal justice populations: A research-based guide. Bethesda, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health.
  11. Office of National Drug Control Policy. (2014). 2013 annual report, Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program II. Washington, DC: Executive Office of the President.
  12. Appel, P. W., Ellison, A. A., Jansky, H. K., & Oldak, R. (2004). Barriers to enrollment in drug abuse treatment and suggestions for reducing them: Opinions of drug injecting street outreach clients and other system stakeholders. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 30(1), 129–153.
  13. Xua, J., Rappa, R.C., ; Wanga, J., & Carlsona, R.G. (2008). The multidimensional structure of external barriers to substance abuse treatment and its invariance across gender, ethnicity, and age. The Journal of Substance Abuse, 29(1), 43-54.
  14. Binswanger, I.A., Stern, M.F., Deyo, R.A., Heagerty, P.J., Cheadle, A., Elmore, J.G., & Koepsell, T.D. (2007). Release from prison – a high risk of death for former inmates. New England Journal of Medicine, 356(2), 157–165.
  15. Olson, D. (2011). Sheridan Correctional Center Therapeutic Community: Year 6. Chicago, IL: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.
  16. Olson, D., & Rozhan, J. (2011) A process and impact evaluation of the Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center Therapeutic Community Program during fiscal years 2007 through 2010. Chicago, IL: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.
  17. Willis, K. (2015). Diminishing capacity: The heroin crisis and Illinois treatment in a national perspective. Chicago, IL: Illinois Roosevelt University, Consortium on Drug Policy.
  18. Mitchell, O., Wilson, D., Eggers, A., & MacKenzie, D. (2012). Drug courts’ effects on criminal offending for juveniles and adults. Oslo, Norway: The Campbell Collaboration.
  19. Olson, D. (2011). Sheridan Correctional Center Therapeutic Community: Year 6. Chicago, IL: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.
  20. Wexler, H. K., Melnick, G., Lowe, L., & Peters, J. (1999). 3-year reincarceration outcomes for amity in-prison therapeutic community and aftercare in California. The Prison Journal, 79, 321-336.

Sharyn Adams

Sharyn Adams is with ICJIA as a research analyst in the Center for Justice Research and Evaluation.