Drug Testing in the Criminal Justice System: Importance and Impact

UPDATED: 7/26/2023

According to a recent National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a large portion of the US prison population has Substance Abuse Disorder. 65% of the prison population has a SUD, and the other 20% were under the influence of some drug at the time of the crime.

According to a study, 80% of probationers and parolees have some form of drug addiction. Another study confirmed that probationers and parolees have nine times more chance of having a substance abuse disorder than the general public. These studies highlight the high incident rates and the need for drug testing in the criminal justice system.

Drug testing has become a prevalent tool in the criminal justice system for monitoring drug use, ensuring compliance with court orders and promoting public safety. With the rise of drug addiction and substance abuse, drug testing has become an essential component of the criminal justice system. The purpose of testing for drugs is to inform judges for bail-setting and sentencing, indicating whether specified rules or conditions are being complied with and identifying persons in need of treatment.

The Importance of Drug Testing in the Criminal Justice System

A survey by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service found that approximately 71% of probation and parole agencies in the United States conduct drug testing as a condition of release. Of these, about 60% conduct drug testing using urine tests. The remaining 40% use other forms of drug testing, such as hair or saliva testing.

Drug testing is performed in all stages of the criminal justice system: arrest, pretrial phase, and during incarceration, probation, and parole. Drug testing is essential in the criminal justice system for various reasons.

  • First, drug testing can help identify individuals who are addicted to drugs and may need treatment. Drug addiction, similar to an illness, can affect anyone. It is important for the criminal justice system to identify and treat drug-addicted individuals. Drug testing can also help monitor an individual’s progress during treatment and ensure they remain drug-free.
  • Second, drug testing is crucial in ensuring compliance with court orders. Individuals on probation or parole may be required to remain drug-free as a condition of release. Drug testing can help ensure individuals comply with these orders and avoid further legal consequences.
  • Third, drug testing can promote public safety by identifying individuals who are under the influence of drugs. Drug use can impair an individual’s ability to make rational decisions, leading to risky behaviors such as driving under the influence. Drug testing can help prevent these risky behaviors and protect the public from harm.

Impact of Drug Testing in the Criminal Justice System

Drug testing has had a significant impact on the criminal justice system. It has led to increased accountability among individuals on probation or parole and helped identify drug-addicted individuals who need treatment. A 2020 study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment found that among people on probation or parole in three US states (Maryland, Missouri, and New York), those who were drug-tested more frequently were less likely to use drugs and were more likely to complete their probation or parole terms successfully. In addition, drug testing has helped reduce drug-related crimes and has contributed to public safety.

Drug testing has also impacted the criminal justice system’s budget. Drug testing can be costly, and some jurisdictions have struggled to fund drug testing programs adequately. However, the cost of drug testing is often outweighed by its benefits in terms of public safety and reducing drug-related crimes.


Drug testing is a critical component of the criminal justice system in the United States. It helps identify drug-addicted individuals who need treatment, ensures compliance with court orders, and promotes public safety. While drug testing can be costly, its benefits often outweigh the costs. As drug addiction and substance abuse continue to be prevalent issues in the United States, drug testing will continue to be an essential tool in the criminal justice system.

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