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University of Iowa News Release


Jan. 30, 2007

AUDIO: Listen to IU Professor Stephan Arndt, Ph.D., discuss aspects of the report on the University News Services Audio Page at

Report Looks At Costs Of Jail-Based Substance Treatment, Prison

Providing jail-based substance abuse treatment for nonviolent, drug-related offenders is half the cost of housing an inmate at an Iowa prison, according to a recent report by researchers at the University of Iowa.

Moreover, the Iowa Jail-Based Substance Abuse Treatment Program, a pilot program currently in Polk, Scott and Woodbury counties in Iowa, has shown to be effective in helping clients stay clean, obtain employment and remain arrest-free one year after admission to the program.

The report, prepared by the UI-based Iowa Consortium for Substance Abuse Research and Evaluation for the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH), provides an economic perspective on the cost of providing substance abuse treatment and aftercare to individuals in county jails. The pilot program, which began in 2002 with the help of a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to the IDPH, was designed as an alternative to extended prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. The program has been a collaborative effort among treatment agencies, sheriff's offices, county attorneys and judges in the three counties.

"The treatment agencies actually work out of their respective county jails," said Stephan Arndt, Ph.D., UI professor of psychiatry and director of the Iowa Consortium for Substance Abuse Research and Evaluation who co-authored the report. "Given that over half of the people in prison are substance dependent, or were at the time they were committing a crime, this program is a reasonable alternative for these individuals who were likely to be serving long-term sentences for nonviolent drug crimes."

The in-jail treatment itself is based on intensive outpatient programs involving individualized, group and peer-to-peer counseling, six to eight hours a day, every day for several weeks. Even after release from county jail, individuals continue intensive outpatient treatment and follow-up as they transition back into their communities.

For the report, Arndt and his colleagues examined the costs of treatment, jail time and recidivism compared to the costs of time in prison for 408 clients who were admitted to the program between July 1, 2004, and June 30, 2005. Nearly 73 percent of the clients were male, and clients spent an average of 77 days in the in-jail portion of treatment and 212 days in the program from admission to discharge.

The average daily cost for a client in the treatment program was $30.19, which was obtained by adding the average daily cost of time in the county jail, the cost per day of treatment and the average cost for time spent in additional controlled environments such as halfway houses, treatment centers or work-release facilities. This compared to $64.02, the figure provided by the Iowa Department of Corrections to reflect daily cost to house an inmate at one of Iowa's prisons.

Clients in the Jail-Based Substance Abuse Treatment Program were contacted for follow-up interviews at six and 12 months after admission to the program to gather information related to abstinence from substance abuse, arrests and employment. Client abstinence maintained a rate of 75.5 percent at the one-year follow-up. More than 90 percent of the clients were arrest-free after six months; after one year the figure stood at 80 percent. More than 60 percent of the clients reported being employed full time at the 12-month interview.

The survey results are similar to community-based substance abuse treatment programs but are remarkable nonetheless, given that many of the clients have lived for years with substance abuse and crime, Arndt noted. "This program gives clients an incredible incentive to make good. Many of these individuals are lifetime offenders, and now they're not getting arrested anymore. That's surprising," he said.

According to the Iowa Department of Corrections Web site, the state's prison population is more than 8,800, which is 22 percent above capacity. The jail-based treatment program helps alleviate prison overcrowding by making more prison beds available for violent, dangerous offenders, the report states. The treatment program helps transform clients into contributing members of society, which has economic and social impact, as well.

"When considering the average daily cost of prison, these results suggest that offering treatment services to incarcerated individuals and moving them to continuing care services upon release is a cost-effective policy tool," the report concludes.

The report is available online at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5139 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: David Pedersen, 319-335-8032,