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

Institutional Interventions

Stan Taylor, Commissioner
Delaware Department of Corrections
Dover, Delaware

Gina Wood, Director
South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice
Columbia, South Carolina

Tim App, Assistant Deputy Commissioner
Massachusetts Department of Corrections
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts

Dan Noelle, Sheriff
Multnomah County, Oregon
Portland, Oregon

Mary Leftridge Byrd, Warden
Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
Chester, Pennsylvania
Gary Field, Administrator Counseling and Treatment Services Oregon Department of Corrections Salem, Oregon  

Summary of Proceedings

A comprehensive program of testing, treatment, sanctions, and aftercare is necessary to ensure efficient use of resources in addressing the problems of substance-abusing offenders. In today's environment, correctional institutions must have a mission that goes beyond safety, security, and sanitation, said moderator Stan Taylor, Delaware's Corrections Commissioner.

Taylor cited recent studies in Delaware showing there is up to 40 percent less recidivism with treatment than without it. Virtually all prisoners are released within 27 months. Because the average length of stay in a correctional facility is fairly short, he says, long-range planning and treatment should begin early.

He cited Delaware's Key and Crest Programs as examples of how the criminal justice system can address offenders' drug and alcohol problems. The Key Program provides treatment during the last year an individual is incarcerated. The Crest Program offers 6 months of aftercare in a halfway house. Upon leaving Crest, the individual is monitored for a 6-month probation period. Monitoring for drug and alcohol abuse is built into all stages of the treatment process.

Drug and alcohol testing also is a key component of Massachusetts' comprehensive treatment and sanctions program for incarcerated offenders, said Tim App of the Massachusetts Department of Corrections. A policy of zero tolerance for drugs was developed in the early 1990s in response to high escape rates. Upon investigation, the department found that 80 percent of escapees had become involved with drugs and/or alcohol while on work programs in communities. In response, the prison system began testing for drug/alcohol use when offenders returned from work assignments. Individuals who were using drugs or alcohol were identified, and quick and decisive treatment and sanction responses were implemented.

Currently, the state conducts widespread testing of the general inmate population, using the same combination of treatment and sanction responses. Sanctions might include closer monitoring (including more frequent drug testing, paid for by the offender); loss of privileges, such as good time or visitation; room restrictions; extra job assignments; or removal from a paying job assignment. The prisoner also might lose consideration for a lower security transfer or be transferred to a higher security unit or facility.

In addition, corrections staff talk with prisoners who test positive about their drug sources. About 60 percent of prisoners identify the source, thus allowing officials to attempt to cut off the supply. According to App, the combination of drug testing, treatment, and sanctions is quite effective. In the past year, he noted, the positive test rate was 0.1 percent, with only five repeaters, down considerably from previous years.

Sheriff Dan Noelle of Portland, Oregon, said his state has found success is possible even with the most hardcore, long-term offenders. However, care must be taken to provide effective community aftercare and follow-up services. Released prisoners cannot be expected to "just walk out the door with no place to go for continuing help," he said.

Oregon also has begun targeting its treatment programs, said Gary Field, of the state Department of Correction's Counseling and Treatment Services Division. An investigation showed that 8 percent of offenders were committing 60 percent of the crimes; those individuals were targeted for participation in treatment. More than 65 percent of them finished treatment last year. Field noted that studies show lower recidivism rates for those who did finish treatment. Even mandated treatment for chronic offenders has been shown to be effective.

However, Field said, the type and scope of treatment services available in a community may dictate priorities for who receives treatment first. If a community has a well-established system of services that can respond to chronic offenders as easily as first-time offenders who are open to treatment, then some services can be offered for everyone who needs them. In a community where the type and scope of services are limited, Field suggested that decisions may need to be made regarding who receives services. At the same time, those communities should expand their capacity to provide treatment both within correctional facilities and in their communities.

Treatment options may need to be different for different populations, said Mary Leftridge Byrd of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. She noted the importance of being sensitive to the special needs of women when developing both treatment and sanctions. "Women experience incarceration as a continuation of, rather than an interruption of, their lives," she said. "So it is important to talk about and create programs and access points that deal with relationships."

Similarly, Gina Wood of the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice asserted that the 70 percent of juveniles in the criminal justice system who have drug and alcohol problems also need programs tailored to their needs. She pointed out the particular relevance of a collaborative approach to working with young people with co-occurring disorders. Such partnerships allow resources to be spread more broadly among the various programs and organizations and reduce the demand for additional resources, she noted.

Panelists noted that creating these solutions can seem overwhelming in the face of limited resources but added that every community has untapped resources and assets. Field said communities may need to start with the lowest level of voluntary treatment, but "that's fine. Start there and expand from that point."


Last Updated: March 4, 2002

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