As an initial matter, society is turning more and more to alternative treatments for minor drug offenders. As stated in a research study by the U.S. Department of Justice, there are a number of potential types of alternative treatments available, such as residential treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, drug education, pharmacological interventions, community-based therapeutic programs, and relapse prevention programs (Peyton and Gossweiler, 2001: 7). A careful analysis can match Mr. Smith with an alternative treatment program for his particular type of abuse.
In addition, there is a growing body of evidence which suggests that therapeutic options might be more relevant to eliminating the underlying behavior which resulted in the drug offense. More particularly, there has been a rather long-standing perception, by the public and by researchers in general, that drug use per se leads to more advanced criminal behaviors. Indeed, much of the drug debate centers on this very premise that recidivism and progressively worse criminal actions are inevitable. The data, however, does not support such an attenuated conclusion; quite the contrary, the research demonstrates that there are similar risk factors for both the abuse of drugs and criminal behavior. In short, incarceration does nothing to deal with Mr. Smith's underlying risk factors.
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As an illustration, heroin abuse does lead to financial criminal behaviors; that is, the abusers commit crimes with the specific objective being the financing and re-financing of their heroin habits. A more general causal relationship, that substance abuse per se causes crimes in all spheres, is simply not supported by the empirical data. This type of statement is at best misleading, and at worst grossly incorrect. Mr. Smith deserves more than media exaggerations.
The reasons for the abusive use of substances are highly individualistic and they are at the same time varied. Individual risk factors for substance abuse and criminal behaviors include low self-esteem, social status factors like underemployment and unemployment, failure in vocational and educational endeavors, personal problems in the family, and feelings and perceptions of being excluded from social groups and opportunities. Domestic violence, for example, may result in both the abuse of drugs by a child and the engagement in criminal behaviors. It is this notion that forces the qualification of the extant to which substance abuse impacts criminal behaviors.
The illegal drugs context is a useful one. Common criminal behaviors for these types of drugs tend to involve drug possession, the manufacture of drugs, the trafficking of drugs, the larger and more particular involvement of criminal syndicates in the illegal drugs market, the types of acquisitive crime, such as burglaries, committed by abusers who need more money to buy these illegal drugs, and the consequent anti-social atmosphere and increased fear of crime that aggregated substance abuse creates within neighborhoods and