Study: 70% of inmates are on drugs at booking

  • Article by: DAVID CHANEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 24, 2011 - 10:12 PM

Federal study at Hennepin County jail found drugs, most often marijuana, in 70% of arrestees.

Seven in 10 inmates booked into the bustling Hennepin County jail on any given day last year had illegal drugs in their system, though most of them had had some kind of treatment.

This unique snapshot of drug use by inmates before their arrest comes from an annual federal study that includes the county and nine other jail sites across the country. It involves randomly selected inmates who take part voluntarily, giving information about their drug habits, criminal activity and housing and job status, and providing a urine sample within 48 hours of being booked.

Substance abuse by arrestees at the Hennepin County jail in Minneapolis was over 70 percent in 2010, a 10 percentage-point increase from 2009. The drug most commonly found was marijuana, in about half of those tested, followed by cocaine, in nearly one-fifth.

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek could only speculate on the reason for the increase. He theorized that because crime is down nationwide, career criminals, the group most likely to consume illegal drugs, make up a higher proportion of those arrested.

"The study underscores the need to break the cycle of drug use, arrest and incarceration," said Gil Kerlikowske, White House National Drug Control Policy director. "The need for treatment for those addicted to drugs does not disappear once they enter the criminal justice system, and in fact, this data highlights the serious need for more substance abuse and mental health treatment behind the walls and within our probation and parole systems."

The study, called ADAM II (Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program), showed regional differences in arrestee drug use. In Hennepin County, there was an increase in heroin abuse. Methamphetamine use was much higher among jail inmates in Sacramento and Portland, Ore. Those in Atlanta tended to use cocaine more often. In Charlotte, N.C., just over half of arrestees tested positive for any kind of drug.

Whatever the drug detected, in Hennepin County, treatment doesn't start in jail, because inmates usually are gone within a week. The county workhouse and nine of the state's correctional facilities offer long-term chemical dependency treatment for prisoners and aftercare programs following their release. The state's Department of Corrections spent $6.5 million for treatment programs last year, and the budget is $7.1 million for 2011.

More than 90 percent of state prison inmates have been diagnosed as chemically abusive or dependent. Last year, 2,938 inmates were directed to treatment, but 1,200 didn't get the chance to start because of space limitations. Of those who did begin treatment, which takes an average of eight months, two-thirds completed it.

"Getting a chance to talk to drug users in jail is a really good point of contact to encourage them to be diverted into a treatment program," said Dana Hunt, national director of ADAM II.

Using the data

The New York City jail, one of the 10 in the study, collects data on where inmates were arrested to determine whether a drug pattern exists in a given area and whether it would be a good place for a treatment program, Hunt said.

Stanek said that his office shares the study's findings with narcotic investigators, but that the information may be most useful to manage the inmate population in jail. Most inmates who test positive have used drugs in the days or weeks before booking and may still be under the influence.

"Those inmates may have behavior issues that need to be addressed or they may go into drug withdrawal and require medical attention," Stanek said.

"The most common urgent medical response is withdrawal from heroin."

Studying drugs, crime

The study information is collected twice a year during two-week periods. Hennepin County's results were released by the Sheriff's Office, which manages the jail. The numbers are preliminary until the data are reviewed by Hunt's office and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which funds the study.

Hennepin County had nearly 900 inmates participate during the two two-week periods. About 40,000 people are booked into the jail each year.

More than half of inmates who reported using marijuana or heroin within the past year said they had received drug or mental health treatment at some time in their life. More than 70 percent of those who reported using cocaine or methamphetamine had received treatment.

When asked to discuss Hennepin County statistics supplied by the Star Tribune, dealing with the first data period, Hunt said the increase in overall drug use and the finding that 8 percent of inmates tested positive for heroin were significant. While marijuana, the drug most commonly found, stays in a person's system for 30 days, heroin disappears after two days.

ADAM II, which deals with the heaviest drug users in the United States, has a greater ability to detail local substance patterns than other national drug abuse surveys, Hunt said. The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse would miss inmates, who often are homeless or live in somebody else's house, she said.

Hennepin County's results didn't surprise Carol Falkowski, drug abuse strategy officer for the state's Department of Human Services. There has always been a connection between crime and drugs because a drug habit is an expensive proposition, she said.

"This study is just more evidence that really illuminates the strength of that association," she said.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465

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