Sample Criminal Justice Research Proposal on Prison Drug Addiction


Substance abuse is a common problem that affects many prison inmates in the U.S. and across the world. Several studies have shown that many prisoners who have a problem with drug addiction started using drugs before they were put in jail. In the year 2009-10, it was reported that 37% of inmates revealed that they had on one occasion or another used illicit drugs while in prison (Kevin, 2010). According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 53% of all prisoners abused and depended heavily on drugs (Mumola & Karberg, 2006). The transition of a drug addict to prison setting can be difficult and drug addiction among prisoners places heavy demands upon the criminal justice system, rehabilitation units, and correction systems.  The purpose of this research is to examine drug use among inmates.

Literature Review

Drug addiction is the cause of most problems that occur within prison facilities in the U.S., including emotional outbursts, violence, and health problems. In a study conducted by Royuela, Montanari, Rosa, and Vicente (2014), they found that 90 percent of inmates who are addicted to drugs find themselves struggling on a daily basis to cope with the prison culture. A study, which was conducted on 100 inmates in the Denver prison, found that 90 of the inmates had a problem coping with prison culture, which caused them to use drugs as a way to run away from reality. However, these individuals ended up causing more problems with others and at times also put their lives at risk. According to Royuela, Montanari, Rosa and Vicente (2014), a majority of the inmates who use drugs engage themselves in behaviors that are more dangerous. For instance, they get more piercings, inject their bodies with drugs, and get tattoos (Royuela, Montanari, Rosa & Vicente, 2014). In addition, diseases, such as HIV, can be transmitted among inmates with drug problems because they shared the same needles to pierce, tattoo, or inject their bodies with drugs or during self-harm (Royuela, Montanari, Rosa & Vicente, 2014).

 In 2009, about 40% of inmates who were addicted to drugs had shared injection material (Kevin, 2009). Kevin (2009) found that many of the inmates who are drug addicts had episodes of suicidal ideation, while others harmed themselves due to emotional distress. The study showed that about 57% of the inmates who used drugs had injected themselves with the same needles while others used knives and razor blades during their term in prison. Many prison drug addicts used methamphetamines or cocaine and engaged in violent behavior (Mumola & Karberg, 2006).

Another major impact that drug addiction has on the criminal justice system is that it undermines the ways in which prisons and prisoners are controlled. Keysey, Feucht and Flaherty (2002) revealed that drug use prevented effective safety operations within the environment, which supposedly is being controlled by the guards. This is because the inmates who use drugs always have damaging behaviors, making it hard to control them. Kevin (2010) found that many of the inmates who are addicts not only bribe the guards to get them drugs but also influence them to take control of the majority of illegal activities in prison. This not only places the lives of other inmates at risk, it also exposes the prison guards as individuals who are corrupt.

A majority of the inmates acquire drugs through staff members, contractors, and visitors and they have been considered by the criminal justice system and correction system as the greatest threat to successful elimination of drugs in prison. Efforts have been put to try and prosecute both the inmates and guards as a way to deal with the supply of drugs to inmates in prisons that lead to continued problems, such as addiction. According to Feucht and Keysey (2009) several prisoners have been charged again for new drug offenses while in prison because of their addiction. It is one way which the government is using to ensure that drug use is controlled among inmates and those found to be supplying it prosecuted.

Royuela, Montanari, Rosa, and Vicente (2014) relate threatening behaviors to mental illness, which they found to be on the rise among the inmates addicted to drugs. The majority of these individuals with mental illness are a great threat to the population. A study conducted by Feucht and Keysey (2009) revealed that individuals with mental problems are suicidal and also threaten other inmates.

According to Marlowe (2003), it is important to monitor these individuals to avoid self-destruction, which is the leading cause of death among inmates in prison. This weighs the burden on the prison system because these individuals not only need special care, but also treatment. Keysey, Feucht and Flaherty (2002) have indicated in that there are approximately 1,200 inmates who are sent to Substance Abuse Treatment program every year. However, this treatment requires more time and money, plus additional data which weigh heavily on government expenditure. The prison management has to identify the risky populations, such as individuals with mental illness, and use the accurate resources to treat them during parole period and even after their release to ensure that they do not relapse (Kevin, 2010). This is one way in which the government is fighting drug use within and outside the prison facilities.

Another major impact of drug addiction that requires special attention is drug overdose and drug relapse. According to Royuela, Montanari, Rosa and Vicente (2014), increased stress level within the prison facility can cause some individuals to end up overdosing, creating a potential risk of them dying. Based on their study, they found that even after being released from prison these individuals are taken to rehabilitation centers where they can deal with their addiction problems and boost their self-esteem before being reinstated back in the community (Royuela, Montanari, Rosa & Vicente, 2014). Kevin (2010) found that it was important to identify any withdrawal symptoms among the prisoners before being received in prison. This is because withdrawal time is the most critical time that requires inmate care and to help manage the risk of self-harm.  Drug morbidity needs to be known to help arrange for special care for the inmates with drug addiction problems. However, by the year 2009-10, there was a steady reduction in the number of withdrawal rates upon reception in prison. It means that a majority of individuals who used drugs in prison started it while behind bars and not before reception.

Royuela, Montanari, Rosa and Vicente (2014) found that most of the inmates with withdrawal symptoms had difficulty coping with the prison culture, which led to their self harm or drug addiction because of the desire to continue using it. Kevin (2010) identified that a majority of these individuals were placed under harm reduction programs where they could get support to get rid of their addiction. It is also one way to eliminate the dangerous behaviors among some inmates that leads to an increase in transmission of diseases, poor hygiene, and suicidal attempts. According to Feucht, Keysey and Flaherty (2002), the main goal for enrolling inmates into the program is to sustain and create sobriety culture for the inmates, the staff members, and the visitors. Clear policies have been set to ensure that there is consistency in all the institutions within the prison facility that deals with inmates with drug addiction problems.

The proposed study seeks to examine the prevalence of drug use and the impact it has on behavior among inmates in Denver, Colorado correction facilities.  I hypothesize that as drug use increases, good behavior decreases.


In this study, the researcher is interested to investigate the different aspects of drug use and how drugs affect inmates’ behavior. The survey research design is going to be employed to answer the question by administering a self-reported questionnaire to inmates. Participants will be asked to complete the survey without discussing it with others, and they will be encouraged to answer the questions as honestly as possible.  No form of compensation will be awarded for participation.


            The unit of analysis for this study is the individual inmate.  The population of this study includes inmates 21 years of age or older in the United States of America.  All inmates will be included regardless of the type of crime they committed.  However, for this study, the researcher is interested to focus only on inmates in the state of Colorado as the study population.  Since the number of inmates in the state of Colorado itself is still in the thousands, the researcher is going to gather information from a sample of inmates who are at least 21 years old, who are in the Colorado Department of Correction facilities using the random sampling procedure.

            The researcher will determine the number of inmates by using the sampling frames gathered from the Colorado Department of Correction Office.  There are 25 correction facilities in the state of Colorado and the researcher will choose four facilities at random.  Four facilities will be chosen because there might be differences in inmate drug use and/or behavior among the four facilities.  At each facility, 50 inmates will be randomly selected using the random selection process in an Excel program.  Therefore, the total participants for this study is estimated to be 200 inmates (n=200).  If any of the participants do not complete the survey, another inmate at the same facility will be chosen at random to replace the incomplete survey.  Participation in this study is voluntarily, and participants can stop completing the survey at any time. To ensure confidentiality, no name or any form of identification will be written on the questionnaire.  Since the data is gathered using self-administered survey, the researcher will try to minimize the number of questions so that participants will be able to complete the survey in about 30 minutes; however, there is no time limit given for participants to complete the survey. Since participants’ educational attainment varies, the researcher will try to develop the questions based on sixth grade level of understanding.


            As mentioned above, the researcher will use a questionnaire to gather information in order to answer the question of this study.  The questionnaire is divided into three sections:

  1. Background information
  2. Drug use
  3.   Behavior. 

Prior to discussing questions in each section, the researcher would like to determine the types of variables in this study.  There are three types of variables: dependent, independent, and control.  The dependent variable of this study is inmates’ behavior and the independent variable is drug use.  In addition, the researcher will also include the control variables of this study which are age, gender, and socioeconomic status of the participants.

            In the background information section, the researcher will include questions on “Age” (open-ended question; ratio level of measurement), The question for gender will have the attributes for 1 = male, 2 = female; nominal level of measurement),  The question for education level will have attributes for 1 = some elementary education, 2 = some middle school education, 3 = some high school education, 4 = High school diploma/GED, 5 = Associate degree, 6 = undergraduate degree, 7 = post-graduate degree, 8 = others; ordinal level of measurement), The question for race will have the attributes for 1 = White, 2 = African-American, 3 =  native American 4 = Asian, 5 = Hispanic/Latino, 6 = middle eastern, 7 = Others; nominal level of measurement), “Were you born in the United States?” (1= Yes, 0 = No), The question for Household yearly income will attribute for 1 = less than $10000, 2 = $10000 – $30000, 3 = $30001 – $50000, 4 = $50001 – $70000, 5 = $70001 – $90000, 6 = above $90000; ordinal level of measurement),  The question for marital status will attribute for  1 = single, 2 = married, 3 = divorce, 4 = widow/widower, 5 = others; nominal level of measurement),  The question for Number of children if any (including adopted and/or step-children)(open-ended), “How many times have you been in the correction facilities including now will attribute to 1 = once, 2 = 2 to 4 times, 3 = 5 or more; ordinal level of measurement), “Name the correction facility that you are in “ (the four facilities will be listed alphabetically, nominal level of measurement), “How long have you been in the correction facilities, in total” (open-ended), “How old were you when you were in the correction facility for the first time?” (open-ended), and “Is there any of your family members who is or had been in the correction facilities and the type of crimes committed” (open-ended).

            In the Drug Use section, several questions will be asked such as “Are you currently taking any non-prescriptive drug” (1 = Yes, 0 = No). “If Yes, how long have you been taking the drug” (open-ended).“If No, have you taken any drug before” (1 = Yes, 0 = No), “type of drug” (1 = Cannabis, 2 = Cocaine, 3 = Ecstasy, 4 = Hallucinogens, 5 = Heroin, 6 = Methamphetamine, 7 = Hashish, 8 = Other; nominal level of measurement). “How often do you consume drugs” (1= never, 2 = seldom, 3 = often, or 4 = all the time; interval level of measurement), and, “amount of drug consume” (open-ended).

            In the Behavior section, the researcher will develop several questions to measure the participants’ behavior while in the prison.  The potential questions are such as “Have you ever involved in any aggressive behavior while in prison?” (1 =Yes, 0 = No). “If yes, please list the type of aggressive behaviors” (open-ended). “How often have you involved in the aggressive behavior?” (1 = never, 2 = seldom, 3 = often, 4 = all the times; interval level of measurement), “Have you ever injured any other inmate?” (1 =Yes, 0 = No). “If yes, how many inmates have you injured?” (Open-ended). “Have other inmates ever caused any injuries to you?” (1 =Yes, 0 = No), “Type of injury” (open-ended), and, “Currently, do you feel that drugs influences the ways in which you get angry?” (1 =Yes, 0 = No).

 Policy and Practice Implications

Based on the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a majority of prisoners (53%) abuse and are highly dependent on the drugs (Maxfield & Babbie, 2015).  This research aims to provide empirical evidence that can be relied upon by the criminal justice department in addressing the problem of drug use and its effect on inmates’ behaviors.  This information is of particular importance because it will help the prison authorities to come up with informed drug intervention policies and strategies that address the particular problem. The results of this investigation will also provide a basis for future research into the prevalence of drug use among prisoners in other state prisons and around the world.

The results of this research will also be beneficial for both the federal and state governments when formulating anti-drug use policies because drug dependence among inmates places heavy demand upon the rehabilitation units, the criminal justice system, and the correctional systems. In addition, the outcome of this research will enable the federal government to discover better ways of combating the proliferation of drugs in both federal and state prisons.  More importantly, results of this study will help authorities to determine whether there is any relationship between drug use and aggressive behaviors, and if any, what are the factors that significantly affect….


Feucht, T. E. & Keyser, A. (2009). Reducing drug addiction in prisons: Pennsylvania’s approach. National Institute of Justice Journal 1, 1-15.

Kevin, M. (2010). Drug use in the inmate population-prevalence, nature and context. DUIP NSW journal 1(52), 1-43

Keyser, A., Feucht, T. E., & Flaherty, R. (2002). Keeping the prison clean: An update on Pennsylvania drug control strategy. Corrections Today Journal, 1, 68-72. 

Marlowe, D. B. (2003). Integrating substance abuse treatment and criminal justice supervision. Sci Pract Perspect 2 (1), 4-14.

Mumola, C. & Karberg, J. (2006). Drug use and dependence, state and federal prisoners, 2004. Bureau of Justice Statistics Journal 1, 1-12.

Royuela, L., Montanari, L., Rosa, M. & Vicente, J. (2014). Drug use in prison: Assessment report. Journal for Drugs and Drug Addiction Monitoring Center 1, 1-35.

Maxfield, M. G., & Babbie, E. R. (2015). Research methods for criminal justice and
, (7th Edn). Stanford, CT: Cengage.