Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

California drug-treatment programs not working

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More work needs to be done to find programs that work, rather than continuing to spend money on programs that don’t:

California’s $1-billion investment in drug treatment for prisoners since 1989 has been “a complete waste of money,” the independent Office of the Inspector General said today, doing nothing to reduce the number of inmates cycling in and out of prison.

One lengthy UCLA study of the state’s two largest in-prison programs found that recidivism rates for inmates who participated were slightly higher than those of a group of convicts who did not receive treatment, Inspector General Matt Cate said.

Perhaps most distressing, Cate said, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has been told in more than 20 reports since 1997 that the programs are failing. Yet officials have done nothing to fix them, choosing instead to expand them and fund additional studies of their results.

“Successful treatment programs could reduce the cost to society of criminal activity related to drug abuse, change lives, and help relieve the state’s prison overcrowding crisis,” Cate, the nonpartisan watchdog over corrections, said in a 50-page report. “But so far the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has squandered that opportunity.”

The Office of the Inspector General is an independent state agency responsible for oversight of the corrections department.

In anticipation of the scathing report, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday ordered a shake-up of the department’s drug-treatment operation and put a new person in charge.

Kathryn Jett, director of the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs since November 2000, now serves as head of the newly reorganized Division of Addiction and Recovery Services within the corrections department.

In a news release, the governor called Jett, 53, “the right person at the right time to take on this critical responsibility. There is no one more experienced in addiction and recovery services and no one more committed to making substance abuse treatment the cornerstone of our rehabilitation efforts in corrections.”

A spokesman for the department, Oscar Hidalgo, said officials agree with many points in the report, calling it “consistent with our own recent reviews and recommendations.”

“Efforts have already been underway to improve the program,” he said, adding that officials will use the report to guide future reforms and enhance rehabilitation efforts behind bars.

One in five inmates in California is serving time for a drug offense, and an even larger proportion — more than half of the 172,000 people behind bars — need drug treatment, the inspector general said.

California’s recidivism rate remains among the highest in the country, with more than 70% of inmates returned to prison within a few years of their release.

“Effective treatment for substance abuse offers one of the state’s best hopes of reducing the number of inmates who repeatedly cycle in and out of prisons,” Cate said.

In so doing, drug treatment could also alleviate the severe overcrowding gripping the correctional system. That problem has put the state under federal court pressure to remedy the jam-packed conditions by June or face a possible limit on new prison admissions.

The corrections department’s Office of Substance Abuse Programs spends $143 million a year on substance abuse treatment for inmates and parolees, through 38 privately operated programs at 22 prisons.

The programs have the capacity to provide services to about 9,200 inmates. Corrections officials say about 78,000 California inmates have taken part in treatment behind bars since the programs began in 1989.

Their ineffectiveness, Cate said, boils down to poor management by the department and especially by the Office of Substance Abuse Programs. While the programs’ “therapeutic community” treatment model calls for participants to be separated from other inmates to create a supportive therapeutic environment, participants at nearly all of the programs share yards and other prison facilities with general population inmates. That means security procedures disrupt program operations and often prevent participants from attending the program at all.

Cate said one egregious example of the department’s mismanagement is its willingness to pay for extensive studies of the treatment programs while failing to correct the problems those studies identified.

“The importance of these issues and the enormity of the problems demand a response that reaches beyond the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation,” Cate said, recommending that policymakers work to rebuild the system “from the ground up.”

“The goal should be nothing short of making California a leader in addressing the crippling problem of criminal activity related to chronic substance abuse and its far-reaching implications for public safety and societal well-being.”

The Office of the Inspector General conducts audits, special reviews and investigations of the corrections department to uncover criminal conduct, administrative wrongdoing, poor management practices, waste, fraud, and other abuses by staff, supervisors, and management.

The full text of the inspector general’s special review of the state’s in-prison substance abuse treatment programs can be viewed and downloaded at

Written by Leisureguy

21 February 2007 at 1:01 pm

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