This research synthesized results from 66 published and unpublished evaluations of incarceration-based drug treatment programs using meta-analysis. Incarceration-based drug treatment programs fell into five types: therapeutic communities (TCs), residential substance abuse treatment (RSAT), group counseling, boot camps specifically for drug offenders, and narcotic maintenance programs. We examined the effectiveness of each of these types of interventions in reducing post-release offending and drug use, and we also examined whether differences in research findings can be explained by variations in methodology, sample, or program features. Our results consistently found support for the effectiveness of TC programs on both outcome measures, and this finding was robust to variations in method, sample, and program features. We also found support for the effectiveness of RSAT and group counseling programs in reducing re-offending, but these programs’ effects on drug use were ambiguous. A limited number of evaluations assessed narcotic maintenance or boot camp programs; however, the existing evaluations found mixed support for maintenance programs and no support for boot camps.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
The outlier came from an evaluation of a narcotics maintenance program (Magura et al. 1993, female sample). The logged odds ratio for this contrast was -4.61, indicating that the comparison group had a lower rate of post-release offending than the treatment group did. No other logged odds ratio had an absolute value of 2 or more. Alternative analyses that excluded this outlier yielded substantively similar results.
Alternatively, we assumed a 35% re-offending rate for the comparison group, which was the average 12-month re-offending rate. This effect size suggested a 28% rate of re-offending for the treatment group.
We coded two types of attrition problems: total and differential. Total attrition problems were defined as overall attrition of 20% or greater, or if the primary authors indicated that attriters differed substantially from non-attriters. Differential attrition problems were defined similarly; that is, differential attrition of 20% or greater, or if the primary authors indicated that attrition substantially reduced the comparability of the treatment and comparison group.
*Anglin, M. D., Prendergast, M. L., Farabee, D., & Cartier, J. (2002). Final report on the substance abuse program at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and state prison at Corcoran. Los Angeles, CA: The UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Program.
*Aos, S. (2004). Washington State’s Family integrated transitions program for juvenile offenders: Outcome evaluation and benefit-cost analysis. Olympia, WA: Washington State Institute for Public Policy.
Begg, C. B., & Mazumdar, M. (1994). Operating characteristics of a rank correlation test for publication bias. Biometrics, 50(4), 1088–1101.
Bennett, T. (1998). Drugs and crime: The results of research on drug testing and interviewing arrestees. London: Home Office.
Berggren, O., & Svard, H. (1990). Osteraker Project: A further follow-up of the drug misuser treatment programme at Osteraker Prison. Sweden: Swedish Prison and Probation Administration.
Bureau of Justice Assistance. (2005). Residential substance abuse treatment for state prisoners (RSAT) program. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Assistance.
Bureau of Justice Statistics. (1995). Drugs and crime facts, 1994: A summary of drug data published in 1994. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Cooper, H., & Hedges, L. V. (Eds). (1994). The handbook of research synthesis. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
*Crundall, I., & Deacon, K. (1997). A prison-based alcohol use education program: Evaluation of a pilot study. Substance Use & Misuse, 32(6), 767–777.
*Daley, M., Love, C. T., Shepard, D. S., Petersen, C. B., White, K. L., & Hall, F. B. (2004). Cost effectiveness of Connecticut’s in-prison substance abuse treatment. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 39(3), 69–92.
*Darabi, G. A. (1992). Psychological impact of tier programs: An outcome evaluation. Tallahassee, FL: Bureau of Planning, Research, and Statistics.
Dolan, K. A., Shearer, J., MacDonal, M., Mattick, R. P., Hall, W., & Wodak, A. D. (2003). A randomised controlled trial of methadone maintenance treatment versus wait list control in an Australian prison system. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 72(1), 59–65.
*Dowden, C., & Blanchette, K. (2002). An evaluation of the effectiveness of substance abuse programming for female offenders. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 46(2), 220–230.
*Dugan, J. R., & Everett, R. S. (1998). An experimental test of chemical dependency therapy for jail inmates. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 42(4), 360–368.
Duvall, S., & Tweedie, R. (2000). A nonparametric “trim and fill” method of accounting for publication bias in meta-analysis. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 95(449), 89–98.
Dynia, P., & Sung, H.-E. (2000). The safety and effectiveness of diverting felony drug offenders to residential treatment as measured by recidivism. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 11(4), 299–311.
Egger, M., Smith, G. D., Schneider, M., & Minder, C. (1997). Bias in meta-analysis detected by a simple, graphical test. British Medical Journal, 315, 629–634.
*Eisenberg, M., & Fabelo, T. (1996). Evaluation of the Texas correctional substance abuse treatment initiative: The impact of policy research. Crime & Delinquency, 42(2), 296–308.
*Eisenberg, M., Riechers, L., & Arrigona, N. (2001). Evaluation of the performance of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Rehabilitation Tier programs. Austin, TX: Criminal Justice Policy Council.
Farrington, D. P., Gottfredson, D. C., Sherman, L. W., & Welsh, B. C. (2006). The Maryland Scientific Methods Scale. In L. W. Sherman, D. P. Farrington, B. C. Welsh, & D. L. MacKenzie (Eds), Evidence-based crime prevention (pp. 13–21). New York, NY: Routledge.
Field, G. (1985). The Cornerstone program: A client outcome study. Federal Probation, 49(2), 50–55.
Field, G. (1989). A study of the effects of intensive treatment on reducing the criminal recidivism of addicted offenders. Unpublished Manuscript: Oregon Correctional Treatment Programs.
*Finigan, M. W., Barron, N., & Carey, S. (2003). Effectively assessing and preparing inmates for community substance abuse treatment: The Portland Target Cities Project in-jail intervention. In R. C. Stephens, C. K. Scott, & R. D. Muck (Eds), Clinical assessment and substance abuse treatment: The Target Cities experience (pp. 165–178). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Flanagan, C., Arsovska, J., Giaime, A. J., Goril, M., Kahl, C., Król, A., & Moore, B. (2004). Digest of research on drug use and HIV/AIDS in prisons. London: The European Network for Drug Services in Prison, Cranstoun Drug Services.
Gendreau, P., Little, T., & Goggin, C. (1996). A meta-analysis of the predictors of adult offender recidivism: What works! Criminology, 34(4), 575–607.
*Gordon, J. A. (2002). Barrett Juvenile Correctional Center: Is it effective. Richmond, VA: Virginia Commonwealth University.
*Gransky, L. A., & Jones, R. J. (1995). Evaluation of the post-release status of substance abuse program participants. Chicago, IL: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.
Guerin, P. (2002). Outcome evaluation of the New Mexico Corrections Department Genesis Residential Substance Abuse Treatment program for state prisoners. Albuquerque, NM: Institute for Social Research, University of New Mexico.
*Hanson, G. (2000). Pine Lodge intensive inpatient treatment program. Olympia, WA: Planning and Research Section, Washington State Department of Corrections.
*Hartmann, D. J., Wolk, J. L., Johnston, L. S., & Colyer, C. J. (1997). Recidivism and substance abuse outcomes in a prison-based therapeutic community. Federal Probation, 61(4), 18–25.
Hasselblad, V., & Hedges, L. V. (1995). Meta-analysis of screening and diagnostic tests. Psychological Bulletin, 117(1), 167–178.
Horney, J., Osgood, D. W., & Marshall, I. H. (1995). Criminal careers in the short-term: Intra-individual variability in crime and its relation to local life circumstances. American Sociological Review, 60, 655–673.
*Hughey, R., & Klemke, L. W. (1996). Evaluation of a jail-based substance abuse treatment program. Federal Probation, 60(4), 40–44.
*Hume, S., & Gorta, A. (1988). Results of community urinalyses for clients on the NSW Prison Methadone Program. Sydney, NSW: Research and Statistics Division, NSW Department of Corrective Services.
*Hume, S., & Gorta, A. (1989). Effects of the N.S.W. prison methadone program on criminal recidivism and retention in methadone treatment. New South Wales, Australia: New South Wales Department of Corrective Services.
*Inciardi, J. A., Martin, S. S., Butzin, C. A., Hooper, R. M., & Harrison, L. D. (1997). An effective model of prison-based treatment for drug-involved offenders. Journal of Drug Issues, 27(2), 261–279.
*Johnson, S. L., van de Ven, J. T. C., & Grant, B. A. (2001). Institutional methadone maintenance treatment: Impact on release outcome and institutional behaviour (Research Rep. No. 119). Ottawa: Research Branch, Correctional Service of Canada.
Karberg, J. C., & James, D. J. (2005). Substance dependence, abuse, and treatment of jail inmates, 2002. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
*Kelly, W. R. (2001). An outcome evaluation of the Texas Youth Commission’s Chemical Dependency Treatment Program. Austin, TX: University of Texas.
*Kinlock, T. W., Battjes, R. J., & Schwartz, R, The MTC Project Team. (2005). A novel opioid maintenance program for prisoners: Report of post-release outcomes. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 31, 433–454.
*Klebe, K. J., & O’Keefe, M. (1998). Outcome evaluation of the Crossroads to Freedom House and Peer I therapeutic communities. Colorado Springs, CO: University of Colorado.
Knight, K., & Hiller, M. L. (1997). Community-based substance abuse treatment: A 1-year outcome evaluation of the Dallas County Judicial Treatment Center. Federal Probation, 61(2), 61–68.
*Knight, K., Simpson, D. D., & Hiller, M. (1999). Three-year reincarceration outcomes for in-prison therapeutic community treatment in Texas. The Prison Journal, 79(3), 337–351.
Kooyman, M. (1993). The therapeutic community for addicts: intimacy, parent involvement, and treatment success. Berwyn, PA: Swets & Zeitlinger.
*Kunitz, S. J., Woodall, W. G., Zhao, H., Wheeler, D. R., Lillis, R., & Rogers, E. (2002). Rearrest rates after incarceration for DWI: A comparative study in a Southwestern US county. American Journal of Public Health, 92(11), 1826–1831.
Lipsey, M. W., & Wilson, D. B. (2001). Practical meta-analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Lipton, D. S., Falkin, G. P., & Wexler, H. K. (1992). Correctional drug abuse treatment in the United States; An overview. In C. G. Leukefeld, and F. M. Tims (Eds), Drug abuse treatment in prisons and jails. Rockville, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse.
*Little, G. L., Robinson, K. D., & Burnette, K. D. (1991). Treating drug offenders with moral reconation therapy: A three-year recidivism report. Psychological Reports, 69(3), 1151–1154.
MacKenzie, D. L., Browning, K., Skroban, S. S., & Smith, D. A. (1999). The impact of probation on the criminal activities of offenders. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 36(4), 423–453.
Magura, S., Rosenblum, A. L. C., & Joseph, H. (1993). The effectiveness of in-jail methadone maintenance. Journal of Drug Issues, 23(1), 75–99.
*Martin, C., Player, E., & Liriano, S. (2003). Results of evaluations of the RAPt drug treatment programme. In M. Ramsey (Ed), Prisoners’ drug use and treatment: Sever research studies. London: Home Office Research.
*Miller, J. M., & Koons-Witt, B. (2003). Outcome evaluation of the South Carolina residential substance abuse treatment program for state prisoners. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina.
*Mosher, C., & Phillips, D. (2002). Final report on the program evaluation of the Pine Lodge Pre-Release Residential Therapeutic Community for women offenders in Washington State. Pullman, WA: Washington State University.
*Nash, J. E. (2000). Final report of outcomes for Ozark Correctional Center drug treatment program. Springfield, MO: Center for Social Sciences and Public Policy Research.
*Oregon Department of Corrections. (1994). Comparison of outcomes and costs residential and outpatient treatment programs for inmates alcohol and drug, mental health, sex offender, and social skills treatment. Oregon: Oregon Department of Corrections.
Pealer, J. A., Latessa, E. J., & Winesburg, M. ( 2002). Final report: Mohican Youth Center RSAT outcome evaluation. Cincinnati, OH: Center for Criminal Justice Research, University of Cincinnati.
Pearson, F. S., & Lipton, D. S. (1999). A meta-analytic review of the effectiveness of corrections-based treatment for drug abuse. The Prison Journal, 79(4), 384–410.
*Pelissier, B., Rhodes, W., Saylor, W., Gaes, G., Camp, S. D., Vanyur, S. D., & Wallace, S. (2000). TRIAD drug treatment evaluation project final report of three-year outcomes: Part I. Washington, D.C.: Federal Bureau of Prisons, Office of Research and Evaluation.
Pernaen, K., Cousineau, M.-M., Brochu, S., & Sun, F. (2002). Proportions of crimes associated with alcohol and other drugs in Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.
*Peters, R. H., Kearns, W. D., Murrin, M. R., Dolente, A. S., & May, R. L. II. (1993). Examining the effectiveness of in-jail substance abuse treatment. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 19(3/4), 1–39.
Pollock, J. M. (2004). Prisons and prison life: Costs and consequences. Los Angeles: Roxbury.
*Porporino, F. J., Robinson, D., Millson, B., & Weekes, J. R. (2002). An outcome evaluation of prison-based treatment programming for substance users. Substance Use & Misuse, 37(8–10), 1047–1077.
*Porter, R. (2002). Breaking the cycle: technical report. New York: Vera Institute of Justice.
*Prendergast, M., Hall, E., & Wellisch, J. (2003). An outcome evaluation of the Forever Free substance abuse treatment program: One-year post-release outcomes. Santa Monica, CA: Drug Abuse Research Center.
Prendergast, M. L., Wellisch, J., & Wong, M. M. (1996). Residential treatment for women parolees following prison-based drug treatment: Treatment experiences, needs and services, outcomes. The Prison Journal, 76(3), 253–274.
Sánchez-Meca, J., Chacón-Moscoso, S., & Marín-Martínez, F. (2003). Effect-size indices for dichotomized outcomes in meta-analysis. Psychological Methods, 8, 448–467.
Schippers, G. M., van den Hurk, A. A., Breteler, M. H. M., & Meerkerk, G.-J. (1998). Effectiveness of a drug-fee detention treatment program in a Dutch prison. Substance Use & Misuse, 33(4), 1027–1046.
*Sealock, M. D., Gottfredson, D. C., & Gallagher, C. A. (1997). Drug treatment for juvenile offenders: Some good and bad news. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 34(2), 210–236.
Shaw, J. W., & MacKenzie, D. L. (1992). The one-year community supervision performance of drug offenders and Louisiana DOC-identified substance abusers graduating from shock incarceration. Journal of Criminal Justice, 20(6), 501–516.
Shewan, D., Macpherson, A., Reid, M. M., & Davies, J. B. (1996). The impact of the Edinburgh prison drug reduction programme. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 1(1), 83–94.
*Siegal, H. A., Wang, J., Falck, R. S., Rahman, A. M., & Carlson, R. G. (1997). An evaluation of Ohio’s prison-based therapeutic community treatment programs for substance abusers: Final report. Dayton, OH: Wright State University, School of Medicine.
*Smith, C. J. (1996). The California Civil Addict program: An evaluation of implementation and effectiveness. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California, Irvine, Ann Arbor, MI.
Swartz, J. A., Lurigio, A. J., & Slomka, S. (1996). The impact of IMPACT: An assessment of the effectiveness of the Cook County Jail’s substance abuse treatment program. Crime and Delinquency, 42(4), 553–573.
*Taxman, F. S., & Spinner, D. L. (1996). The Jail Addiction Services (JAS) project in Montgomery County, Maryland. College Park, MD: University of Maryland.
*Tunis, S., Austin, J., Morris, M., Hardyman, P., & Bolyard, M. (1995). Evaluation of drug treatment in local corrections: Final report. San Francisco, CA: National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
*Turley, A., Thornton, T., Johnson, C., & Azzolino, S. (2004). Jail drug and alcohol treatment program reduces recidivism in nonviolent offenders: A longitudinal study of Monroe County, New York’s, jail treatment drug and alcohol program. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 48(6), 721–728.
*Van Stelle, K. R., & Moberg, D. P. (2000). Outcome evaluation of the Wisconsin Residential Substance Abuse Treatmen program: The mental illness-chemical abuse (MICA) program at Oshkosh Correctional Institution, 1998–2000. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Medical School.
*Vaughn, M. S., Deng, F., & Lee, L.-J. (2003). Evaluating a prison-based drug treatment program in Taiwan. Journal of Drug Issues, 33(2), 357–384.
*Voas, R. B., & Tippetts, A. S. (1990). Evaluation of treatment and monitoring programs for drunken drivers. Journal of Traffic Medicine, 18, 15–26.
*Washington State Department of Corrections. (1988). Substance abuse treatment program evaluation of outcomes and management report. Olympia, WA: Washington State Department of Corrections.
Weisburd, D., Lum, C. M., & Petrosino, A. (2001). Does research design affect study outcomes in criminal justice. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, 578, 50–70.
*Welsh, W. N. (2002). Evaluation of prison based drug treatment in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University.
*Wexler, H. K., Falkin, G. P., & Lipton, D. S. (1990). Outcome evaluation of a prison therapeutic community for substance abuse treatment. Criminal Justice and Behaviors, 17(1), 71–92.
*Wexler, H. K., Melnick, G., Lowe, L., & Peters, J. (1999). Three-year reincarceration outcomes for Amity in-prison therapeutic community and aftercare in California. Prison Journal, 79(3), 321–336.
Wilson, D. B., & MacKenzie, D. L. (2006). Boot camps. In B. C. Welsh & D. F. Farrington (Eds), Preventing crime: What works for children, offenders, victims, and places (pp. 73–86). New York: Springer.
Wilson, D. B., MacKenzie, D. L., & Mitchell, F. N. (2005). Effects of correctional boot camps on offending. A Campbell Collaboration systematic review: Available at: http://www.aic.gov.au/campbellcj/reviews/published.html.
*Winesburg, M., Latessa, E. J., & Pealer, J. A. (2002). Final report: Noble Choices RSAT outcome evaluation. Cincinnati, OH: Center for Criminal Justice Research, University of Cincinnati.
*Zhang, S. (2000). An evaluation of the Los Angeles County juvenile drug treatment boot camp: Final report. San Marcos, CA: California State University.
Zhang, Z. (2003). Drug and alcohol use and related matters among arrestees, 2003. Washington, DC: Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program.
We would like to gratefully acknowledge the Nordic Campbell Center and the Jerry Lee Foundation for partial support of this project. We would also like to thank Matthew Makarios, who helped code numerous evaluations.
Studies included in this meta-analysis are indicated with an asterisk
About this article
Cite this article
Mitchell, O., Wilson, D.B. & MacKenzie, D.L. Does incarceration-based drug treatment reduce recidivism? A meta-analytic synthesis of the research. J Exp Criminol 3, 353–375 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11292-007-9040-2
- Drug offenders
- Drug treatment