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National Assembly: Drugs, Alcohol Abuse,
and the Criminal Offender
Thursday, December 9, 1999

Meeting the Challenge:
A Discussion of Action Planning and Next Steps

Stephen Amos, Deputy Director
Corrections Program Office
U.S. Department of Justice
Washington, D.C.

Dr. Pablos Hernandez, Administrator
Division of Behavioral Health
Wyoming Department of Public Health
Cheyenne, Wyoming

William Sondervan, Commissioner
Maryland Division of Correction
Baltimore, Maryland

John Robinson, Undersheriff
Cook County
Chicago, Illinois

Darryl Larson, Circuit Court Judge
Oregon Judicial Department
Eugene, Oregon

Summary of Proceedings

Representatives from three states and one local jurisdiction spoke about the obstacles they have overcome and lessons they have learned in implementing a multidisciplinary approach to integrating drug treatment into the corrections system. The panelists agreed that the problems of substance abuse in prisons could be dealt with effectively only if addressed simultaneously by a variety of professionals from different backgrounds and agencies. Primary health care providers, drug treatment counselors, corrections officials, and probation/parole officers must work together to root drugs out of the penal system, to provide substance abuse treatment for addicted inmates, and to provide a variety of other services for inmates before and after they are released.

Although the particular challenges facing each jurisdiction were different, all four panelists agreed that successful collaboration must start with all partners establishing specific goals; deciding which agencies will meet each goal; holding specific agencies and individuals accountable for meeting these goals; and institutionalizing a method for measuring success.

In addition, clear communication among all partners is needed on a regular basis, from top correctional administrators to public health professionals to those who work in the jails to elected officials. Effective communication can make the difference in meeting one's objectives, in bringing the public on board, and in convincing legislators to fund cross-agency programs.


Corrections Commissioner William Sondervan described how Maryland is using a cross-disciplinary approach to get drugs out of the state's prisons and to provide prisoners with needed drug treatment and education. The key to success, said Sondervan, was the development of a planning and implementation team made up of many different agencies and individuals. Acquiring two grants, including funds from the Drug-Free Prisons Zone program, which seeks to interdict and control the availability of drugs in prison, the team has been able to fund treatment, education, and other actions aimed at getting drugs out of the prison system.

The Lieutenant Governor became actively involved in the effort, as did the state's Correctional Administrators Association. State legislators provided crucial funding for drug interdiction and for substance abuse treatment, which was provided through state health services agencies. "All things flow from good communication and positive relationships," Sondervan said.

To illustrate these collaborative efforts, Sondervan profiled the methods used at one prison with a particularly serious drug problem. First, correctional officers and state troopers entered the prison, locked it down, and removed all drugs, contraband, and weapons. Following the raid, drug policies and procedures were tightened. A strong security corps was established to identify problem inmates who were bringing drugs into the prison. Those prisoners were moved to other in-state and out-of state facilities. Sanctions were imposed on any inmate or visitor caught with drugs.

Employees caught with drugs were immediately fired. In addition, the warden, assistant warden, and chief of security were all replaced. Other employees were moved to other prisons to "bring in fresh blood" and "change the culture" of the prison.

While the prisoners said they were happy the drugs were getting cleaned out, they made it clear that they needed substance abuse treatment, which was provided. In addition, to ensure that the prison remains free of drugs, prisoners are subject to regular urinalysis testing. The prison's canine force has been increased, and a new technology called ion-scan or ion-spectrometry, a kind of "mechanical drug dog," is used.

Even during times of cost-cutting, Sondervan strongly recommends maintaining substance abuse treatment programs, including urinalysis testing on a regular basis. "When times get bad and the budget goes down, don't give up on your core values. Don't quit doing the essential things....I think it's inexcusable to have inmates who come out of prison, after a term of incarceration, who are still addicted to drugs," Sondervan said.


Oregon is using a multidisciplinary approach to develop and implement a statewide set of standards or goals that apply to different aspects of life in the state, including public safety, health care, the environment, the economy, education, and social issues, Judge Darryl Larson said. Known as the Oregon Benchmarks, the program outlines specific goals for every category of state government activity.

Different agencies share goals, encouraging cross-agency collaboration. For example, preventing teen pregnancy may be a secondary goal of the juvenile justice system, and a primary goal for health and human services. All objectives are developed so that their achievement can be measured quantitatively. Cooperation between agencies has enabled the state to develop cutting-edge drug treatment programs and improve its juvenile justice system.

The entire benchmark framework is publicly disseminated, which has increased state accountability for establishing and meeting goals. In addition, the people of the state are encouraged to be active participants in the process. The benchmark program also has helped the state legislature become more familiar with how legislation is implemented, holding specific agencies accountable for meeting various goals.

For more information on Oregon's benchmark program, visit:


Dr. Pablos Hernandez described a recent period during which Wyoming was faced with a methamphetamine crisis, and all state agencies came together to eradicate the problem. A multiagency team was developed with the responsibility to formulate goals and specific plans to deal with the crisis, and to implement those plans. The state Attorney General's Office, the Department of Criminal Investigation, Family Services, and the state departments of health and education were involved in the effort.

One successful tactic the team developed was the use of "champions" who took a leadership role in building support for education and drug treatment programs in communities across the state. One champion was a police officer who traveled across the state, speaking with local jurisdictions about what it means for criminal justice professionals to eradicate substance abuse through services and treatment. By visiting each community, he also was able to help the team develop specific strategies to address the particular problems in each community. Another champion was a state Senator who helped other lawmakers understand the systems approach to drug problems, which helped generate an allocation of $3.4 million to address the crisis.

Although Wyoming focused its efforts specifically on the methamphetamine crisis, the process helped different departments develop clear strategies and action plans that relate to other types of substance abuse treatment and services. It is important to destigmatize substance abuse and address it for what it is—"a disease," Dr. Hernandez said.

Cook County, Illinois

Undersheriff John Robinson described how the problem of inmate crowding in Cook County forced officials to use a multidisciplinary approach to prison crowding and the rehabilitation of prisoners with substance abuse addictions. As far back as 1974, the county had been under court order to ameliorate crowded jail conditions. The county generally was less responsive than it should have been, trying to repair the situation with "Band-Aids," and the crowding worsened.

Building new prisons did not solve the problem; as soon as one was built, it was filled to capacity. By 1990, conditions were so bad that Cook County was releasing 36,000 inmates each year with no subsequent supervision, and 3,800 inmates were sleeping on the floor. As a result, contempt of court proceedings were filed against the county in 1990 for failure to comply with the 1974 court order. Individual county employees were ordered to pay a fine of $1,000 per day until conditions changed.

In response, the county began developing a new approach. It started a coordinating council made up of local treatment and criminal justice officials, including the Chicago Police Department Superintendent. Establishing the goals of treatment, public safety, and institutional safety, the group met regularly. A private sector group also worked on the effort.

Plans were developed to get treatment for substance-abusing inmates and to move those people out of prison who could be safely removed. The group developed a continuum of supervision options and techniques for released inmates, including a "drug school" program and electronic monitoring.

A Day Reporting Center for former inmates was established, providing drug treatment, job training, GED training, and parenting and anger management classes. "It's like a high school for felons. Instead of learning to be a better felon, we try to teach you to be a better person," Robinson said.

Today, fewer than 1,400 inmates are released without supervision each year, and only 200 inmates sleep on the jail floor. Robinson expects that by spring 2000 every inmate will have a bed. Cook County has not built a new jail in nine years. Instead of spending money on jails, the county invests in treatment.

One major key to solving the problem was reframing it. "We said overcrowding isn't the problem anymore. Crowding is the problem, which presupposes that [any crowding] is unacceptable," said Robinson. Thus, new answers emerged by seeing the issue differently and using different language.

The panelists concluded the session with the following specific recommendations:

  • Have a plan, a goal, and hold people accountable early on.
  • Reach out to and communicate regularly with professionals from different backgrounds. For example, people with military or law enforcement experience need to listen and work closely with medical and drug treatment professionals.
  • Find other ways to enhance communication, such as integrating computer databases, transferring information across agencies, and changing some confidentiality policies.
  • Step outside the status quo. Challenge policies and laws that are not working.


Last Updated: March 4, 2002

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