Does incarceration-based drug treatment reduce recidivism? A meta-analytic synthesis of the research

Abstract

This research synthesized results from 66 published and unpublished evaluations of incarceration-based drug treatment programs using meta-analysis.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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    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.

  2. 2.

    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.

  3. 3.

    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.

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Acknowledgments

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.

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Correspondence to Ojmarrh Mitchell.

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Studies included in this meta-analysis are indicated with an asterisk

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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

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Keywords

  • Corrections
  • Drug offenders
  • Drug treatment
  • Meta-analysis
  • Offenders