Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Budget Cuts & Prison Rehabilitation

Though the story from the Sacramento Bee decries the budget cuts for in-prison rehabilitation programs, the evidence—over a long period of time and based on strong evaluation research—indicates that in-prison programs do not work, and in one spectacular case in California, actually make the problem worse.

The costly failure by California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation—$1 billion for all prisoner and parolee drug treatment programs since 1989, and $278 million of that for in-prison programs—was reported by the Office of the Inspector General (2007):

“According to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, more than 36,000 of the state’s 172,500 inmates—21 percent of the adult prison population—are serving prison terms for drug offenses. An even higher percentage reportedly has underlying substance abuse problems. A recent University of California study estimated that 42 percent of California inmates have a “high need” for alcohol treatment and 56 percent have a high need for drug treatment. Recidivism rates for California inmates in general continue to be among the highest in the country.

"In a 50-page special review released Wednesday, the Office of the Inspector General reported that numerous university studies of the state’s in-prison substance abuse programs conducted over the past nine years consistently show no difference in recidivism rates between inmates who participated in the programs and those who received no substance abuse treatment. One five-year University of California, Los Angeles, study of the state’s two largest in-prison programs found, in fact, that the 12-month recidivism rates for inmates who received in-prison treatment was slightly higher than that of a control group." (Office of the Inspector General, Sacramento, California, February 21, 2007 Press Release “The states substance abuse treatment program for inmates do not reduce recidivism, yet cost the state $143 million per year” , pp. 1-2 italicized in original)

An excerpt from the Bee article.

“California prison officials began touting a new public safety reform in January that would encourage inmates to complete a rehabilitation course and earn six weeks per year off a sentence.

“Inside Folsom State Prison, though, inmates and instructors leading such courses are skeptical it will work.

“In reality, they say, budget cuts approved by legislators last year, needed to cope with an unprecedented fiscal crisis, are devastating programs that are the basis for the new credit and for helping inmates stay straight once free.

“The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is slashing $250 million – almost 45 percent – of the $560 million it was to spend on rehabilitation this fiscal year.

“That means a 30 percent trim in high school equivalency and other literacy and vocational courses – 800 out of 1,500 instructors have been let go – and a 40 percent cut in substance-abuse programs.

"I just hope someone up there has a brain and can see what the impact of this will be," said Folsom State Prison school Principal Jean Bracy.

"You cannot take people and throw them in a cage," she said, "and expect them to be OK when they get out without rehabilitation."