Relationships Between Drugs, Violence & Crime

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  • 0:03 Drugs and Crime
  • 1:31 Use-Related Crime
  • 2:15 Other Types of Relationships
  • 3:36 Mental Health, Drugs,…
  • 4:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley has a JD degree and is an attorney. She has taught and written various law courses.

Many inmates in both state and federal prisons say they committed their crimes while under the influence of drugs. Around one-quarter of those inmates committed violent crimes. This lesson explores the relationship between drugs, violence and crime.

Drugs and Crime

Karla Faye Tucker was a five-foot-three, twenty-three year old with no prior criminal history when she was arrested for murder. She was convicted and sentenced to death, for beating two victims more than 20 times each with a heavy pickaxe. She left the pickaxe embedded in one victim's chest. The crime occurred after a late night of partying that included the use of alcohol, marijuana, speed, and various pills.

How unusual is this? Statistics generally show a strong correlation between drug use and crime. In fact, around 60% of people arrested test positive for illegal substances at the time of their arrests. A 2004 survey showed that nearly one-third of state prisoners and just over one-quarter of federal prisoners admitted to committing their crimes while under the influence.

Among federal prisoners, nearly one-quarter of those convicted of violent crimes say they were under the influence at the time of the crime. According to the FBI, violent crime includes murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault. The numbers are even more staggering when alcohol is considered. Approximately half of all homicides and assaults involve the use of alcohol by the perpetrator, the victim, or both.

But those statistics don't tell us why, or how, drugs and violent crime are linked. In fact, there are several different ways drug use affects crime. Let's take a closer look.

Use-Related Crime

The statistics we just looked at are referring to use-related crime. This is sometimes also referred to as the psychopharmacological connection between drugs and crime. Use-related crime refers to crime caused by people who are under the influence of drugs at the time of the crime. Karla Faye Tucker's case is an example of use-related crime.

There are certain drugs, such as hallucinogens and alcohol, that seem to cause violent behavior in some people. However, most experts agree that a perpetrator's social environment affects violent behavior much more frequently than any substance use. In fact, a late 1980s study showed that only 14% of all drug-related murders were use-related.

Other Types of Relationships

That leaves a good portion of crimes that are connected to drugs in some other way. In fact, there are two other major types of relationships between drugs and crime. The first is economic-related crime, or the economic-compulsive connection. This refers to violent crimes, such as armed robbery, committed in order to purchase drugs.

However, a Bureau of Justice Statistics study showed that only 10% of state prisoners serving time for violent crimes said they committed their crimes in order to obtain drug money. In contrast, 30% of those convicted of property crimes, which include burglaries, breaking into cars, selling stolen items, and other variations of stealing that do not involve touching or threatening another person, admitted to committing their crimes for drug money.

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