The Impact of Criminal Defendants’ Opioid Use Disorder on Judges’ Sentencing Recommendations
Journal for Advancing Justice Vol. 2, p. 55 - 70, 2019
Posted: 9 Jun 2020
Date Written: July 2019
Individuals with substance use disorder continue to be disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. This trend is particularly pronounced among those with opioid use disorder (OUD). Given the rising rates of opioid use among arrestees specifically, this study examined the impact of a defendant’s reported OUD on sentencing outcomes following a robbery conviction. United States federal and state criminal court judges (N = 67) provided sentencing recommendations and generated perceptions of a hypothetical defendant with:
(1) reported heroin use,
(2) reported prescription pain reliever use, or
(3) no reported OUD.
Analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed revealed that a criminal defendant with either of the OUD diagnoses was viewed as more likely to reoffend and less capable of logical reasoning than a defendant with no reported history of OUD. These findings suggest that defense attorneys may more effectively support clients with OUD by introducing the defendant’s diagnosis during sentencing, with a focus on the benefits of rehabilitation and on addressing judges’ concerns regarding recidivism. Additionally, ongoing research efforts to identify empirically supported treatment that targets criminogenic risk and relapse may offer further support.
Keywords: Criminal Justice, Substance Use Disorder, Opioid Use, Rehabilitation, Recidivism
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