Saturday, October 23, 2010

Prison Drug Programs

An article from the Chicago Sun Times advocates a drug program in every prison, but if we examine the rigorous evaluation of a large-scale effort (over 1$ billion) in California recently, which not only failed miserably but actually made the problem worse, maybe that is not such a good idea.

An excerpt from the press release of the California program.

“In a 60-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 Chicago Sun Times article.

“Two million, three hundred thousand Americans are in prison today -- No. 1 in the world. That's up from just 500,000 in 1980.

“Imprisonment is one of the most expensive items of state and local budgets. The cost of incarceration in the U.S. is estimated at more than $60 billion a year.

“Most of this increase is due to the prosecution of drug abusers that started in the '80s. Drugs were rampant during that time, with 14 percent of Americans abusing illegal drugs monthly in 1980. That number is now down to 8 percent, but a whopping 68 percent of people arrested test positive for illegal drugs, according to Justice Department surveys of 30 cities.

“The nexus of drugs and crime is simply undeniable.

“There is a solution other than putting drug abusers behind bars -- drug treatment. Though 68 percent of arrestees test positive for drugs, only 14 percent of prisoners receive treatment.

“Birmingham, Ala., was able to call a halt on building a new prison 15 years ago when the city instituted an arrestees' drug treatment program. And the Sheridan Correctional Center, a medium security facility 70 miles west of Chicago that houses male offenders, found that prisoners who completed treatment after release were 40 percent less likely to be arrested a year later and 85 percent less likely to return to prison; counseling, job training and supervision were critical to this success.

“But when we asked the warden's office at the famous Attica prison in New York if they had a drug treatment program, the staff told us, "We're not a drug prison."

“In fact, every prison needs to be a "drug" prison that provides treatment. Only then will we end the overcrowding and recidivism.”