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National Assembly: Drugs, Alcohol Abuse,
and the Criminal Offender
Wednesday, December 8, 1999

Community-Based Interventions I

Thomas Frazier, Director
Community Oriented Policing Service Program
U.S. Department of Justice
Washington, D.C.

Jim Greene, Deputy Director
Court Support Services
Connecticut Judicial Branch
Rocky Hill, Connecticut

Janet Wood, Director
Colorado Department of Drug and
Alcohol Abuse Programs
Denver, Colorado

Nicholas Freudenberg, Director
Hunter College Urban Public Health Program
New York, New York

Ray Berry, Chief Executive Officer
Behavioral Health Care Management Systems, Inc.
Hollywood, Florida

Summary of Proceedings

Collaborative, community-based approaches are needed to work effectively with substance-abusing offenders at the "front end" of the criminal justice system. Panelists focused on the use of innovative assessment and alternative sentencing approaches and on challenges to collaboration that must be overcome to achieve success.

An integrated assessment process is required for offenders to identify problems. This process outlines the types and scope of the problems each individual is experiencing and develops initial recommendations for appropriate treatment strategies. Thomas Frazier, Director of the U.S. Department of Justice's Community-Oriented Policing Service Program, noted that confusion often exists about which partner in the collaboration is responsible for the assessment. In some cases, the arresting officer is expected to have the skills and knowledge to do an assessment but, Frazier argued, it usually is unrealistic to expect officers to have not only the knowledge and skills necessary to do an effective assessment, but also the time to devote to the process.

Ray Berry of Florida's Behavioral Health Care Management Systems pointed to assessment centers, such as the center in Orange County, Florida, as an alternative method. Throughout Florida, these nonprofit centers consolidate and coordinate the assessment process for criminal offenders experiencing drug/alcohol use and/or mental health problems. This centralized process identifies and ensures delivery of appropriate services in the quickest way possible.

Funding for these centers typically comes from the public sector, but the private sector also can contribute. Orange County relies on resources from the United Way as well as from the sheriff's office, drug court, and juvenile justice system.

Drug courts and other innovative sentencing strategies provide alternatives to the overwhelmed criminal court system. Jim Greene of Connecticut's Court Support Services noted that the success of alternative sentencing networks depends on the creation of large numbers of private sector organizations able to respond to the needs of the nonviolent drug offender. In addition, judges must be willing to mandate treatment through these organizations, instead of sending these offenders to jail.

Alternative sentencing is a "win-win-win" situation, said Greene. Offenders get immediate assessment and treatment in their community; the jail/prison population is reduced; and the community can use these programs to focus on other efforts, such as neighborhood revitalization, public works, playground construction, and park beautification.

Both voluntary and mandatory treatment can work, panelists agreed. It may be true that individuals who have volunteered for treatment are more focused in the beginning on achieving successful outcomes, but research indicates that mandated treatment can be equally successful, Frazier noted.

Whether treatment is mandatory or voluntary, success depends on good working relationships between criminal justice system professionals and treatment providers. Sometimes this relationship is problematic because of a reluctance on the part of treatment providers to work with criminal offenders who may be seen as "tough clients." This problem can be particularly troublesome in public/private sector collaborations; when private sector, community-based organizations are allowed to self-select their clients, they most likely will not select criminal offenders, Frazier said.

Such problems underscore the special need for relationship building between the criminal justice system and community-based treatment agencies, said Nicholas Freudenberg of the Hunter College Urban Public Health Program. Partnerships need to be built on the belief that "people coming out of jail are our brothers and sisters" and deserve to be reconnected to their communities, he said, citing as an example the work of the New York Department of Corrections with 40 other groups, serving ex-offenders, substance abusers, the homeless, and women.

Freudenberg also focused on the need to tailor treatment approaches to each person's needs and to consider the special needs of subpopulations such as women and juveniles. For many adult women, drug and alcohol problems are related to emotional and/or physical abuse. Treatment for these women requires special skills and knowledge about abuse and its relationship to drug/alcohol addiction. For youth, school, work, and/or family problems typically contribute to criminal behavior and the use of drugs and alcohol.

Freudenberg cited the Riker's Island Help Link program as a successful individualized, voluntary program to help reduce recidivism, drug use, and HIV risk-related behaviors. This program reaches people at a time when they are thinking seriously about what put them in jail and what they are going to do when they leave. At this key moment, the program helps inmates develop actions to improve their lives and increase their chances for success after release, and then provides follow-up interventions.

While treatment and follow-up are important, panelists also agreed that prevention efforts are essential. Janet Wood of the Colorado Department of Drug and Alcohol Abuse Programs identified several steps that can be taken to improve both prevention and intervention efforts:

  • Develop comprehensive community planning mechanisms;
  • Develop common outcomes and indicators to measure success;
  • Devise ways to combine funding streams that are available to and directed by local communities;
  • Use common application forms and coordinated assessment procedures;
  • Share other information among service providers.

The panel put forward a "dream team" of collaborators who can help provide the needed continuum of care. The team included, but was not limited to, community-based organizations, schools, mental health facilities, juvenile justice institutions, courts, law enforcement officers, child welfare service organizations, substance abuse treatment facilities, faith-based organizations, grass-roots service providers, elected officials, probation and parole officials, and the public health system.

Such a "dream team" is not only possible, but already exists in many parts of the country. Wood pointed to Denver, Colorado, for example, where more than 200 written memoranda of agreement are in place that clearly spell out the mechanisms by which many organizations from different disciplines work together to achieve common goals.


Last Updated: March 4, 2002

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