Behavioral Triage: A New Model for Identifying and Treating Substance-Abusing Offenders

Angela Hawken 1
  • 1 Pepperdine University

Over the last decade there have been several large-scale efforts to leverage the law to encourage substance-abusing offenders to enter treatment. A routine practice has developed in most states in which offenders undergo an assessment for drug abuse or dependence, and based on their self-reported behavior, those deemed to have a substance use disorder are referred to treatment programs. The problem with applying the assessment-treatment model in correctional systems is that both components of this approach are seriously flawed. An alternative model, using regular random testing coupled with modest sanctions, relies on offender observed behavior rather than self report, to signal need for treatment services. Many offenders are able to desist from drug use without treatment. This reallocation of resources creates greater opportunity to provide more-intensive treatment services to those who really need it. This paper proposes replacing the traditional assess-and-treat approach with an alternative model that bases treatment decisions on observed behavior: the behavioral triage model.

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Journal of Drug Policy Analysis publishes peer-reviewed articles related to every aspect of the problems posed by abusable psychoactives, licit and illicit, anywhere in the world. We publish analytic contributions to the public and scholarly conversation about how to deal with the issues surrounding drug policy.