Research / Themes / Innovation / Modeling policy costs and benefits

Reflecting sentencing policies implemented throughout the 1980s and 1990s, prisons hold a disproportionate number of society’s drug abusers. Treating this drug use is important from a societal perspective because inmates who regularly use drugs have higher recidivism rates than other inmates; yet only a small percentage of state prison inmates report receiving any clinically or medically based drug treatment since admission. Given the high cost of incarceration and criminal behavior among drug-involved offenders, and the relatively modest cost of prison-based treatment, investing in effective and targeted treatment may make economic sense.


The existing literature on the benefits and costs of prison-based drug abuse treatment is limited because the studies consider drug abuse as an acute problem that can be addressed in one treatment episode. However, because addiction is a chronic disease with high risk of relapse, drug-involved offenders are likely to engage in multiple episodes of treatment over the course of their lives and also have multiple episodes of incarceration. Thus, comprehensive analyses of the benefits and costs of prison-based drug treatment require long follow-up periods as the benefits of treatment may emerge and increase over a lifetime.


Given the absence of data that follow drug-abusing inmates over the course of their remaining lifetimes, this perspective can only be captured through the use of mathematical simulation models. No existing model has captured the lifetime dynamics of drug abuse, drug treatment, and incarceration; thus aims of this study are to (1) develop a dynamic simulation model of drug abuse, treatment, and incarceration for a state prison inmate cohort; (2) use the model to estimate the lifetime benefits and costs of prison-based drug treatment for a state prison inmate cohort; and (3) use the model to estimate the effect of alternative prison-based drug treatment policy scenarios on lifetime benefits and costs of prison-based drug treatment. Results will help policy makers test the economic implications of alternative scenarios for expanding treatment for inmates and parolees, and improve decision making about the current allocation of prison-based drug treatment resources. Funded by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health


Related faculty

Steven Belenko
Kathleen Auerhahn


Selected publications

Auerhahn, Kathleen, 2008.  “Using Simulation Modeling to Evaluate Sentencing Reform in California:  Choosing the Future.”   Journal of Experimental Criminology.  Volume 4, Number 3:241-266.

Auerhahn, Kathleen, 2008.  “Dynamic Systems Simulation Modeling:  A Planning Tool for the New Century.”  Journal of Criminal Justice.  Volume 36, Number 4: 293-300.

Auerhahn, Kathleen, 2007.  “Do You Know Who Your Probationers Are?  Using Simulation Modeling to Estimate the Composition of California’s Probation Population, 1980-2000.”  Justice Quarterly.  Volume 23, Number 4:  28-47.

Auerhahn, Kathleen, 2004.  “California’s Incarcerated Drug Offender Population, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow:  Evaluating the War on Drugs and Proposition 36.”  Journal of Drug Issues.  Volume 34, Number1: 95-120. 

Belenko, S. and Peugh, J. (2005). Estimating drug treatment needs among state prison inmates. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 77, 269-281.

Belenko, S. (2006). Assessing released inmates for substance-abuse related service needs. Crime and Delinquency, 52, 94-113.

Belenko, S., Foltz, C, Lang, MA, and Sung, H-E. (2004). The impact on recidivism of residential treatment for high risk drug felons: A longitudinal analysis. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 40, 105-132.