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Drugs and Crime: Behavioral Aspects

Contemporary Drugs And Crime Research

Among the difficulties reflected in the research from the 1920s through the 1960s was the static frame of reference in which addiction has been repeatedly perceived. For although different types within addict populations were observed as early as the 1920s, a major portion of later efforts failed to adequately address this phenomenon. Sample bias was a major issue, particularly with police agencies that limited their analyses to arrestees. Similar contamination often emerged from data generated by serious researchers as well. Initially, addicts receiving in-patient care—arrestees, probationers, parolees, or inmates—typically represent the more dysfunctional members of the drug-using community in that their involvement is sufficient enough to bring them to official attention. In addition, many samples were exceedingly small, and differences with respect to even the more common variables of age, sex, and ethnicity were not always factored. Furthermore, since the unreliability of official criminal statistics as a measure of the prevalence and incidence of offense behavior has been long since documented, interpretations grounded in arrest data are highly suspect. In an alternative direction, populations have been drawn for study from treatment settings with little account taken for the possibility of changing styles in addiction over time.

To recap, from the 1920s through the close of the 1960s, hundreds of studies of the relationship between crime and addiction were conducted. Invariably, when one analysis would support the medical model, the next would affirm the view that addicts were criminals first, and that their drug use was but one more manifestation of their deviant lifestyles. In retrospect, the difficulty lay in the way the studies had been conducted, with biases and deficiencies in research designs that rendered their findings to be of little value.

Research since the middle of the 1970s with active drug users in the streets of New York, Miami, Baltimore, and elsewhere has demonstrated that, at least with those drug users active in street subcultures, the medical model has little basis in reality. All of these studies of the criminal careers of heroin and other drug users have convincingly documented that while drug use tends to intensify and perpetuate criminal behavior, it usually does not initiate criminal careers. In fact, the evidence suggests that among the majority of street drug users who are involved in crime, their criminal careers were well established prior to the onset of either narcotics or cocaine use. As such, it would appear that the inference of causality, that the high price of drugs on the black market per se causes crime, is simply not supported. On the other hand, these same studies suggest that drugs drive crime in that illicit drug use tends to intensify and perpetuate criminal careers.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawDrugs and Crime: Behavioral Aspects - The Criminal Model Of Drug Abuse, The Harrison Act Of 1914, Early Research Initiatives, Contemporary Drugs And Crime Research