In a study conducted by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, of the 2.3 million inmates crowding our nation’s prisons and jails, 85% were substance-involved. 1.5 million of these inmates met the DSM-IV medical criteria for substance abuse or addiction. This number had been increasing rapidly within the last decade. When entering the prison or jail system, many inmates have pre-existing addictions to substances such as cocaine, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine, etc.

Not everyone entering jail or prison has an addiction, but because drugs are often readily available, people can quickly become exposed to substance use inside. To the average person, many assume that drugs would be difficult to get inside. However, drugs are often easier to get inside prison or jail than they are to get on the streets. Utilizing interesting tactics, inmates will smuggle drugs in through visitors, compliant staff, delivery trucks, bodily cavities and more.


According to an article in The Washington Post, roughly 1,000 “drug incidents” — seizures of marijuana, heroin and other drugs — are reported annually at California prisons. Along with this, between 2006 and 2008, 44 inmates in the state died of drug overdoses. There are similar numbers of drug incidents and overdoses throughout the U.S. prison and jail system.

65 percent of the nation’s inmates meet the medical criteria for substance abuse and addiction. Out of the 65 percent, only 11 percent received treatment for their addictions. With so little inmates receiving the treatment they need while incarcerated, the argument is that entering into a treatment program, rather than serving time in prison or jail, could be much more beneficial.


There are many motivations for drugs in jail. For most, the primary factor is financial gain. However, holding power over other inmates and feeding their addictions are also high motivators. Due to their high demand, drugs can sell for up to ten times that of what they’d sell for on the streets, motivating inmates to fall into smuggling and distributing to others. Along with selling, some inmates use to feed their addictions and “escape” during their time in prison or jail. Because of the high drug distribution and use within prisons and jails, those who suffer from addiction inside prison or jail, treatment is unlikely. In some cases, prisons and jails offer treatment programs, but waitlists can be long. Each of these factors dramatically decreases an inmates chance of staying clean and sober within the system.

Drug use and distribution within the U.S. prison and jail system are at an all-time high. While systems are put in place to combat this activity, entirely eliminating it will be difficult. With over-population of U.S. prisons and jails, sometimes the court system will allow people to enter into treatment. This action tends to occur for non-violent drug crimes. Treatment for addiction could keep a majority of people out of prison or jail and on the track to recovery.