Problematic substance use (PSU) can negatively affect the outcomes of those involved with the criminal justice system: it can contribute to criminal behaviours, hinder progress within the justice system and create difficulties for those reintegrating into the community. This fact is concerning as approximately 75% of individuals arrive at Canadian federal institutions with a serious substance use problem (Correctional Service Canada [CSC], 2010). Further, those involved in the criminal justice system are more likely to have diverse physical and mental health conditions such as mental disorders, learning disabilities and infectious diseases (CSC, 2015a; CSC, 2010). These individuals are likely to have experienced substantial adverse events (e.g., witnessing family violence) and abuse, and to have a lower than average socioeconomic status (Kouyoumdjian, Schuler, Matheson, & Hwang, 2016), which varies based on diversity (e.g., Indigenous offenders).

Understanding how PSU plays a role in the success of an individual is key to improving the reintegration of those involved in the criminal justice system. PSU is a recognized criminogenic risk factor, meaning someone with a history of PSU is more likely to recidivate or commit future crimes (Harrison & Gfroerer, 1992). Addressing PSU and other risk factors can lead to a reduction in criminality, successful reintegration and a cost savings for corrections (Wooditch, Tang, & Taxman, 2014; Visher & MallikKane, 2007; CSC, 2009).

The primary goal of this environmental scan was to summarize evaluations of criminal justice interventions that aimed to reduce substance use and related behaviours, or recidivism or both. More specifically, the purpose of this environmental scan is:

  • To identify and summarize best practices in assessing and addressing PSU among those involved in the criminal justice system, with a focus on supporting the transition from the institution to the community; and
  • To develop a comprehensive picture of specialized initiatives or programs that have already been implemented in Canada.

The intended audience for the scan includes researchers in the field of criminology or substance use, practitioners involved in the criminal justice system or the treatment of PSU, and federal, provincial and territorial policy and decision makers responsible for health, justice or corrections.