Will Going to Jail Help Someone Get Sober?

inmate in a cell

If you or a loved one has been arrested for a drug-related crime, you should know that you’re not alone. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 45.2 percent of all inmates are incarcerated due to drug offenses.1 However, addiction alone is not an imprisonable offense.

You see, addiction affects behavior. Most addicted people who end up in jail are there as a result of drug-related crime. Obtaining and using drugs is intertwined with all kinds of illegal activities, such as buying drugs from dealers, prostitution, stealing money or valuables, forging prescriptions, or behaving in violent or inappropriate ways.

About 80 percent of inmates abuse either drugs or alcohol and 50 percent of inmates meet the clinical criteria for addiction.2 Not surprisingly, about 95 percent of those inmates return to drug abuse after they are released.2

If your addicted loved one has recently been arrested, you may be slightly relieved at the thought of them being off the streets. But will going to jail help them get sober? Or is their substance abuse likely to continue once they are released?

Drug Abuse and Incarceration

In 1980, there were only 4,749 drug-related federal incarcerations. Fast-forward to 2017 and that number has increased to a whopping 78,800.3 If just a small percentage of these inmates were sent to detox and rehab centers instead of jail, the United States could save billions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on prisons and detention centers.4

Addiction treatment not only reduces the economic cost of drug-related incarceration but it also greatly reduces individual rates of recidivism. This means that an addicted person is much less likely to commit a drug-related offense with proper addiction treatment services instead of jail time.

Unfortunately, this continues to be a problem. One study found that about 95 percent of drug abusers return to drug abuse and 60 to 80 percent commit a new crime (typically drug-related) after their release from prison.5

In addition to the need for professional treatment, supervision is also an important aspect of recovery for drug offenders. Even if treatment is provided, without any form of accountability, former inmates are likely to return to drug abuse. According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), without regular supervision from a judge, 60 to 80 percent of drug offenders drop out of treatment prematurely and very few graduate from their program.6

Will Going to Jail Help Someone Get Sober?

Sometimes going to jail can be a major wake up call, especially for drug users who have never been in trouble with the law before. In these instances, the experience of sitting in a jail cell may be enough to motivate a person to get sober and seek help for their addiction. However, completing a medical detox program gives a person a much better chance at lasting recovery because these programs are tailored to each client’s needs and they provide close clinical and medical assistance around the clock.

Alternatives to Prison for Addiction

Fortunately, there are several different alternatives to prison for offenders who commit non-violent drug-related crimes.

Drug Courts

Research has shown that drug courts are six times more likely to keep drug offenders in treatment long enough for them to overcome their addiction.7 But what is drug court and how does it work?

Drug courts are judge-supervised programs that keep non-violent addicted offenders in treatment for an extended period of time. Individuals in these programs may be required to attend drug court instead of going to jail. Throughout the program, individuals receive personalized treatment and recovery services that help them stay sober and live productive, sober lives.

Drug courts also hold individuals accountable by administering regular and random drug tests, requiring appearances in court for progress reviews, and providing rewards for positive progress. If clients do not live up to the requirements of the program, they are penalized.

Research studies have provided evidence that drug courts significantly reduce drug use and crime and continues to be one of the most effective strategies for combatting methamphetamine addiction, which is notoriously difficult to overcome.8

Court-Ordered Rehab

Scientific research has also shown that addicted individuals need at least 90 days of continuous treatment to significantly reduce or stop their drug use and that the best outcomes occur with longer durations of treatment.9

Court-ordered rehab is another form of alternative sentencing for drug offenders. A person may be ordered to complete an outpatient or inpatient program, depending on the nature of their crime and their history with substance abuse and addiction.

Completing court-ordered addiction treatment in several different episodes, such as medical detox, inpatient rehab, intensive outpatient rehab, sober living, and aftercare, is highly beneficial for people who are addicted. Not only does this process provide adequate time for individuals to overcome their addiction(s), but it also offers continued support in all stages of recovery to reduce the likelihood of relapse and prevent the return to criminal behavior.

Although court-ordered rehab is often involuntary, it can be just as effective as voluntary treatment and is a much rosier alternative to jail. Instead of returning to substance abuse after being released from prison, a non-violent offender has the opportunity to attend a comprehensive treatment program that will teach them how addiction works and how they can avoid relapse, all while giving them the tools they need to maintain successful, long-term sobriety.

Court-ordered rehab can also be extremely helpful for offenders who would otherwise struggle to re-integrate back into society. A sober living program can provide a safe, structured, and supportive place to live after outpatient or inpatient rehab is complete. These programs also include employment assistance, sober social opportunities, and educational planning. Accountability is provided with regular drug testing, recovery programming, and sober coaches who work one-on-one with clients.

Benefits of Rehab Instead of Jail

While jail may sometimes serve as an effective motivational tool, it lacks the accountability, treatment services, and social services individuals need to maintain their sobriety. Attending drug court or going to rehab instead of jail can provide the following benefits:

  • Individualized medical and clinical care during drug withdrawal
  • Effective relapse prevention
  • Education about addiction and recovery
  • Professional help unrooting the core causes of substance abuse
  • Behavioral therapy to change behavior and thought processes
  • Opportunities to engage in healthy, sober social relationships
  • Long-term engagement in treatment
  • Assistance re-integrating into society

If you or your loved one would prefer to go to rehab instead of jail, you may meet the qualifications to do so. Common qualifications for attending drug court or a court-ordered rehab program include:

  • Committing a non-violent drug-related offense
  • Completing an evaluation with a drug addiction counselor
  • Demonstrating a commitment to living a sober life
  • Not having a criminal record
  • Demonstrating that you can benefit from inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab, or drug court

If you believe drug court or court-ordered rehab would be a good option for you or a loved one, talk to your lawyer, legal representative, or a judge about the option.

Addiction Treatment That Helps You Stay Sober for Good

Getting sober is a long-term process that requires continuous effort and work from the addicted individual. If you don’t want to go to jail and are ready to change your life, drug court or court-ordered rehab may be the right choice for you.

The professionals at Briarwood Detox Center are available to speak with you or your legal representative concerning the details of your court-ordered rehab treatment. We are available to start you off on your road to recovery with a safe and effective medical detox program. Call (888) 857-0557 to learn more today.


  1. https://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/statistics_inmate_offenses.jsp
  2. http://aja.ncsc.dni.us/htdocs/2009Annual/SpeakerMaterials/FactsonDrugCourts.pdf
  3. https://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Trends-in-US-Corrections.pdf
  4. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0011128712461904
  5. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0032855598078001003
  6. http://aja.ncsc.dni.us/htdocs/2009Annual/SpeakerMaterials/FactsonDrugCourts.pdf
  7. https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/A-Sober-Assessment-of-Drug-Courts-Marlowe-Dematteo/f2b66d3c741ce14536c5dbc266f613e517eab7a5
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15139869
  9. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment

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