Report: Invest in Drug Treatment Instead of Punishment

    By Brandi Grissom
    January 10, 2013

    Instead of throwing drug addicts in jail, the state should invest more money in substance abuse treatment, says a report issued Thursday by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, which adds that the move could provide millions of dollars in savings and improve public safety.

    You cannot cure addiction by locking it up, said Ana Yez Correa, executive director of the coalition. It doesnt cure it; it makes it worse.

    In Texas, arrests for drug possession have increased 32 percent in the last decade, and about 90 percent of all drug-related arrests are for possession not dealing, according to the report. In 2011, the nearly 15,000 inmates in jails and prisons on drug possession offenses statewide cost taxpayers more than $725,000 daily. The coalition argues that providing more state resources for treatment would be less costly and would prevent crimes associated with drug use.

    Since 2007, lawmakers have directed money that would have been invested in building new facilities for a growing inmate population to diversion, probation and treatment programs. As a result, the prison population has fallen so much that in 2011 lawmakers for the first time closed a Texas prison, the Central Unit in Sugar Land. And this year, state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, has said lawmakers should consider shuttering two additional units.

    But in the face of a $27 billion budget shortfall in 2011, lawmakers curtailed the growth of some of the diversion and treatment programs that had helped slow the incarceration rate in Texas. Without more investment in those kinds of programs, Texas prisons and jails could again exceed their capacity by 2014, according to the report.

    While Texas has one of the highest incarceration rates nationally, the report notes, it has one of the lowest drug treatment admission rates. In 2009, more than 53,500 outpatient and residential treatments slots were available statewide, and a waitlist with more than 14,000 names. Forcing addicts who are seeking treatment to wait can have dire consequences, including the commission of crimes that land them behind bars.

    Douglas Denton, executive director of Homeward Bound, a Dallas-based substance abuse treatment center, said that for people who suffer from addiction which is classified by the American Medical Association as a diagnosable chronic disease akin to diabetes or asthma incarceration tends to exacerbate their condition. Addicts may not have access to drugs in prison, but without counseling and treatment, they are unable to understand and deal with the underlying issues that drive the addiction. When they are released from prison, Denton said, addicts are more likely to then return to using more intensely.

    Its a powerful, powerful addiction, and you just cant write it off as, Oh hes just being willful, Denton said. The compulsion lives in the brain, and theres something wrong with the chemical makeup in the brain.

    Like other diseases, Denton said, the most effective way to address addiction is with treatment.

    Recidivism is reduced tremendously when you can find somebody early in their addiction and give them these services and get them back to functioning normally, he said.

    State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has filed a bill that would allow judges to place low-level offenders without a violent criminal history on probation and assign them to a personalized drug treatment program. If they complete the program, the offenders could apply to the judge for dismissal of the charges and to prevent public disclosure of the offense. Ellis says the measure could save the state more than $138 million annually.

    Similar bills, however, failed in 2007 and 2009 in the face of opposition from some law enforcement officials, who worried it would make prosecuting drug crimes more difficult.

    We know when it comes to reducing drug use, treatment and diversion programs simply work better. It's worked here in Texas with our Drug Courts, and it's worked in other states that have made the responsible shift in policy, Ellis said.

    In addition to measures that divert addicts who get caught up in the criminal justice system from incarceration to treatment, the coalitions report urges more state investment in preventive substance abuse treatment and mental health care. The report recommends improved statewide coordination of risk assessment for offenders, better training for criminal justice workers and less harsh sanctions for drug-related probation violations.

    Report: Invest in Drug Treatment Instead of Punishment


    TDCJ is Changing Contractors for Drug Treatment Services
    At least four state facilities from Community Education Centers to an entity called Gateway Foundation Inc.,
    Reported The Corpus Christi Caller Times.

    "The contract change affects 116 CEC positions at four prison units:
    Halbert Unit in Burnet,
    Kyle Correctional Center near Austin
    and Sayle Unit near Breckenridge."

    CEC got the contract in 2009, so one wonders why the state felt the need to change contractors so soon. Gateway Foundation's website lists six other Texas facilities where they provide treatment services.

    Contractor change for in-prison drug treatment program to affect 24 South Texas jobs
    Contractor change affects Glossbrenner

    By Mike D. Smith
    Posted July 3, 2012

    SAN DIEGO A contractor change for a Texas Department of Criminal Justice substance abuse treatment program will affect more than 100 positions statewide, including 24 at the Glossbrenner Unit in San Diego.

    West Caldwell, N.J.-based Community Education Centers Inc., or CEC, notified the Texas Workforce Commission of the coming change under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, commission records show.

    The act requires employers to notify the state at least 60 days before layoffs if they employ more than 100 full-time employees who are laying off more than 50 people at a single site.

    CEC will continue running the programs at four facilities through Aug. 31.

    The state recently issued a request for proposals to run 10 facilities. Gateway Foundation Inc., won the contract worth a base amount of $24 million during the state's 2013 fiscal year, TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark said.

    That amount includes $2.8 million for the program at the Glossbrenner Unit.

    In an emailed statement, CEC spokesman Christopher Greeder said the company learned of the contractor change on June 15.

    "The company will work with the new vendor to assist these employees with re-employment and thanks them for their dedicated work," Greeder said.

    The contract change affects 116 CEC positions at four prison units: Glossbrenner, the Halbert Unit in Burnet, the Kyle Correctional Center near Austin and the Sayle Unit near Breckenridge, according to Texas Workforce Commission information.

    Notifying the workforce commission sets into motion several services to help affected workers with any job transition or unemployment needs.

    Many of those services will be provided by Workforce Solutions of the Coastal Bend's "rapid response" team, spokeswoman Monika De La Garza said.

    "We want to be there in a proactive sense and also before the actual event takes place so we can offer the services that are available to the employees before they get laid off," De La Garza said.

    CEC indicated in its letter to the commission that some of the affected workers may be hired by the new contractor.

    CEC was founded in 1996 and began providing in-prison treatment services at Glossbrenner in September 2009, Greeder said.

    Contractor change for in-prison drug treatment program to affect 24 South Texas jobs


      Detail on proposed prison cuts

      By Mike Ward
      February 8, 2011

      Readers, youre asking for detail on the impending budget cuts proposed for Texas corrections system.

      Prison officials have shopped the recommendations around with legislative leaders, though they have said they have not started implementing any of these cuts.

      The total proposed cuts would save $62.4 million, and eliminate 1,890 jobs in the current budget.

      An additional $11.7 million would be cut from prison medical care, and $600,00 would be cut from the budget of the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

      Here they are, showing savings and detail of what will be cut:

      [^ - shows effects on alcohol and drug treatment programs.]

      Capital $7.1 million: Cuts most remaining funding for capital projects, including vehicle replacement, information-technology infrastructure and kitchen laundry equipment. Only funding for emergency repairs is left.

      Department of Information Resources Contract $3.9 million: Eliminates surplus funding realized from improved IT practices that have resulted in savings.

      ^Underutilized/Unspent Aftercare Treatment Diversion Funds $3.7 million: Makes cuts to underutilized drug-treatment programs in some Substance Abuse Felony Punishment lockups.

      ^Jones County Contract $12.3 million: Cancels contract for 900-bed drug-treatment program in a lockup owned by Jones County. The program has not been opened because there are not enough convicts to place into it.

      ^North Texas ISF Contract $2.9 million: Does not renew a contract for 424-bed North Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility in Fort Worth, because the beds are not needed.

      Video Surveillance System $2.4 million: Cancels the installation of contraband-thwarting technology at the McConnel Unit in Beeville. The gear has been purchased, but not installed. It was the last prison to get the upgraded security items as part of a contraband crackdown that began two years ago.

      Food Service Menu Modifications $2.8 million: Substitutes powdered milk for carton milk in prison chow lines, substitutes sliced bread for hamburger and hot dog buns, and other speciality breads; reduces dessert servings from two to one per week, and feeds only two meals brunch and dinner on Saturdays and Sundays at state jail and transfer lockups. Reduction In Force: Non-Unit Positions $3.1 million: Eliminates 400 non-prison personnel, most of them administrative jobs.

      Project RIO (Reintegration of Offenders) $1.5 million: Cuts funding for this program that provides job training to convicts who are on their way out of prison, on parole or because theyve finished their sentence. Some 155 employees would be laid off.

      ^Burnet County ISF Contract $3.1 million: Terminates the contract for 456-bed drug-treatment program at the county-owned lockup in Burnet. About 1,800 convicts can move through the program annually.

      ^Pre-Release Substance Abuse Treatment Programs $700,000: Cuts funding for these intensive pre-release treatment programs at the Hamilton Unit in Bryan and the LeBlanc Unit in Beaumont, and lays off 55 employees.

      ^State Jail Substance Abuse Program $600,000: Cuts 1,20 slots in this treatment program in state jails, which generally house non-violent offenders who are serving two years or less behind bars.

      Probation Supervision $7.1 million: Cuts 110 probation officers statewide by reducing state funding to county probation departments. Higher caseloads and lessened monitoring of offenders will be a result.

      Parole Supervision $1.9 million: Lays off 137 parole officers and staff, increases caseloads and could lessen parole supervision that could result in more arrests of parolees.

      Reduction In Force: Non-Unit and Unit Positions $9.3 million: Some 1,033 jobs would be eliminated if layoffs occurred April 15; 1,163 would be cut if they occurred on May 1; 1,550 would be laid off if they occurred in June 1, and 2,235 would be cut if layoffs did not occur until July 1.

      This reduction in force would result in the elimination of additional non-unit positions (besides the 400 listed above), unit operations staff positions and correctional officer positions, with no funding for overtime expenditures to offset these staffing recommendations, the briefing document given to legislative leaders states.

      Reduced staffing levels could substantially reduce management controls and oversight as well as compromise the operations and security of our institutions.

      With few months remaining in this fiscal year, this staffing reduction would be spread throughout all correctional institutions.

      To the extent that offender populations permit, the reduction in correctional staffing could be primarily focused on units selected for closure in the next biennium. Overall, staffing reductions of this magnitude would result in significant operational challenges to this agency.

      Detail on proposed prison cuts


      Addiction program for offenders too valuable to lose, proponents say

      August 9, 2010
      The Dallas Morning News

      AUSTIN A nationally acclaimed program that has helped even the hardest-core addicts to sober up and stop committing crimes is vulnerable to state budget cuts.

      Lafamette Cottingham, who relapsed into drug use, waited for sanctions from Judge Robert Francis last month at the George Allen Courthouse. Cottingham is in a program to keep ex-offenders from returning to their old ways.

      A staggering 70 percent of the 72,000 offenders freed from Texas Department of Criminal Justice lockups last year were chemically dependent. And without treatment, they're potentially a menace to property and, in some instances, lives.

      Many criminologists and others in the field say that groundbreaking work on drug and alcohol counseling and community supervision has proved so effective that it has prevented another Texas prison-building boom. But they fear that could change if lawmakers cut diversion programs as they tackle a projected $18 billion budget shortfall.

      "We've saved money, kept the public safe, and we're not getting the state in such a situation where they're having to just open the doors of the prison and start pushing people out," said Teresa May-Williams, assistant chief of probation in Dallas County, which has been a leader of Texas' big push to treat nonviolent offenders' addictions.

      But the state's incarceration rate would be "going straight up again and it would be fast" if cuts were made, she said.

      The diversion programs' uncertain future demonstrates a potentially recurring problem: Cuts that lawmakers make now to prevention efforts whether aimed at disease, child abuse, high school dropouts or ex-cons' relapses into drug abuse could cause long-term woes that cost more to address. The cuts also could cancel lively experiments praised by criminal justice experts around the country.

      Texas' offender population has decreased slightly since 2007, when the Legislature began investing more money in treatment, diversion and lower caseloads for local probation officers. State analysts project it to stay essentially flat at nearly 155,000 adults through 2015.

      "It is reasonable to conclude those actions are largely responsible for the decline," said Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the state criminal justice department.

      Lawmakers and Gov. Rick Perry have ordered all state agencies to identify 10 percent in spending cuts over the next two years, preparations for tackling the budget gap next year. While the department has a few more weeks to fine-tune its cuts list and isn't tipping its hand, backers of the treatment and diversion initiatives fear the worst.

      They emphasize that community monitoring and treatment account for only a dime of every corrections dollar the state spends, with 80 cents still devoted to running prisons. And yet even deluxe treatment efforts cost less than one-third of what it takes to house a prison inmate, which is nearly $50 a day.

      Facing the music

      "Mr. Cottingham, I'm not God," visiting Judge Robert Francis bellowed to a packed courtroom in Dallas late last month. "If we're going to move forward, I've got to know you're being honest with me."

      Lafamette Cottingham, summoned to the front of the courtroom from one of eight "sanction chairs," bowed his head and began to sob. The young man, who'd failed a spot drug test, then confessed he used his second paycheck from a new job to get high.

      Francis, who prowls the room like Maury Povich without a microphone, waved him back to his seat. An hour or so later, the judge ordered the man to spend six days in the county jail, though he allowed Cottingham to serve it on weekends so he could keep his job.

      The retired GOP district judge is the unrivaled star of Dallas County's "4C Court." Life's grittiest matters are openly aired in the Community Corrections Continuum of Care Court three days a week.

      "No reality show can hold a candle to ours," he said.

      Francis and a staff of 22 drug counselors, case managers, snooping probation officers, clerks, lawyers and bailiffs operate a 1 -year-old state-financed specialty court. It tries to keep strongly addicted felons coming out of prison or state jails under intensive individual and group therapy and 24/7 scrutiny.

      No Texas judge has ever had a full docket of "re-entry" probationers who are trying to shake addictions. But a $2.6 million state grant gives Francis unprecedented resources to help keep them on the straight and narrow.

      The court gives offenders temporary housing if needed. It also insists they avoid bad family situations, helps them find jobs, and subjects them to surprise visits and drug tests.

      Every morning, even on weekends, participants have to call in to see if they are part of a group ordered to go to the George Allen Courthouse that day to undergo urinalysis.

      Liza Estrada, 35, a recovering methamphetamine addict, said she got tripped up by two or three beers she drank the evening after her group had been drug-tested. Estrada said she was stunned the next morning, when the group was summoned for a second consecutive day of urinalysis. She tested positive and within days, she was sitting in agony on a sanction chair.

      "It's humiliating I was bawling," recounted Estrada, who graduated from the program and now helps her brother run a construction business.

      Francis does not apologize.

      "I'm sneaky, that's my job," he said. "I know they're sneaky, too."

      Individual focus

      Though very different in politics and style, Reps. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, and Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin, may be the biggest fans of diversion efforts such as the 4C Court.

      Madden, a West Point graduate who served in Vietnam, is an engineer and small-business owner. He headed the House Corrections Committee in 2007, when the state pivoted in a new direction, away from building more prisons.

      It has 112. And three years ago, it trailed only three Deep South states Louisiana , Mississippi and Georgia in its incarceration rate, locking up one of every 71 adults.

      Madden said that being tough on crime doesn't require a one-cell-fits-all approach, which wastes money.

      "The reason we're successful is that we're treating everybody as an individual and working on their individual problems instead of a mass-produced type effort," he said.

      McReynolds, a petroleum land man with a history doctorate and the impassioned piety of a Church of Christ deacon, gushes over the treatment pilots.

      "They redeem lives and they save taxpayers' money and promote public safety," he said.

      Both said the Legislature avoided creating about 17,000 more prison beds construction alone would have exceeded a half-billion dollars by boosting treatment and community supervision efforts. Lawmakers approved $162 million more for such programs four years ago; and last year, they added another $46 million.

      Among other things, lawmakers decided to fix the Substance Abuse Felony Punishment program, a drug treatment effort for felons better known as "Safe-P." It needed "after care," or closer supervision and prolonged treatment after release, McReynolds said.

      In Dallas, Francis' court provides plenty.

      Offenders must attend 12-step recovery groups near their homes three times a week, and collect signatures to verify they were there. They also must come to the courthouse to see a probation officer and a drug counselor and to attend group therapy. Francis said it's all governed by a nationally recognized set of treatment principles that attack both addiction and criminal thinking.

      In just more than 18 months of operation, 4C Court has revoked probation for only 7 percent of about 360 participants. Statewide, 27 percent of released inmates return to prison within three years, said May-Williams of the local probation department. She said the 7 percent probably won't increase much because "the biggest risk is in the first year."

      Tony Hinshaw is among the sober 93 percent.

      The Dallas man lost everything to meth and cocaine in a five-year downward spiral that netted him seven felony convictions for property crimes and drug sales. Hinshaw, 42, said he needed the in-prison component of Safe-P, which lasts six months.

      Therapy changed his thinking, Hinshaw said, and when he got out, fear of Francis did the rest.

      Several graduates recall being gratified by the amount of personal attention that Francis and his staff gave them, an experience they weren't used to in the criminal justice system. But when Francis decides to lower the boom on an offender who repeatedly misses appointments and tests positive, he summons all participants to a formal courtroom hearing to watch. The sentences are heavy 10, 25, even 40 years.

      "That's a real eye-opener," said Hinshaw, now attending Eastfield Community College with hopes of becoming a drug counselor. "It's a wake-up call."

      Future uncertain

      In May, the criminal justice department largely escaped a preliminary round of state budget cuts. But it, like other state agencies, must identify a possible trim of 10 percent. For the criminal justice department, that's more than a half-billion dollars.

      Spokeswoman Lyons, asked if diversion efforts will be among department programs potentially affected, didn't respond directly.

      "At this magnitude, all core agency functions would be impacted," Lyons said. She declined to be more specific but said the department would make the fallout of any proposed cuts clear to state leaders. Madden and McReynolds said they're confident the diversion efforts will be spared, if not by department leaders now then by state leaders in spring, when final decisions are made.

      In Texas' 2003 budget crisis, though, lawmakers whacked about $280 million or about 6 percent from the department's two-year budget. They eliminated more than 1,200 positions and cut deeply into most rehabilitation programs.

      "They cut everything that changed people's lives," recalled Ana Yanez-Correa of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, which advocates for less reliance on incarceration.

      "We can't afford to go back."

      I'm a criminal and so are you

      By Michelle Alexander
      Special to CNN
      May 19, 2010


      * Michelle Alexander says calling herself a criminal to friends starts an interesting exchange
      * Many of us, even Obama, commit small crimes, but still think we're good citizens, she says
      * Stigma, social exclusion attach simply because you were once caught with drugs, she says
      * Writer: Copping to our crimes gives us more sympathy for the convicted, disenfranchised

      Editor's note:
      America's 300 million-plus people are declaring their identity in the 2010 Census this year. This piece is part of a special series on in which people describe how they see their own identity. Michelle Alexander is the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, 2010)She is the former director of the Racial Justice Project of the ACLU of Northern California and of the Civil Rights Clinic at Stanford Law School. She holds a joint appointment with the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University.

      (CNN) -- Who am I? How do I identify?

      Lately, I've been telling people that I'm a criminal. This shocks most people, since I don't "look like" one. I'm a fairly clean-cut, light-skinned black woman with fancy degrees from Vanderbilt University and Stanford Law School. I'm a law professor and I once clerked for a U.S. Supreme Court Justice -- not the sort of thing you'd expect a criminal to do.

      What'd you get convicted of? people ask. Nothing, I say. Well, then why do you say you're a criminal? Because I am a criminal, I say, just like you.

      This is where the conversation gets interesting. Most of my acquaintances don't think of themselves as criminals. No matter what their color, age or gender, most of the people in my neighborhood and in my workplace seem to think criminals exist somewhere else -- in ghettos, mainly.

      They have an unspoken, but deeply rooted identity as "law-abiding citizens." I ask them, "Haven't you ever committed a crime?" Oddly, people often seem perplexed by this question. What do you mean? they say. I mean, haven't you ever smoked pot, didn't you ever drink underage, don't you sometimes speed on the freeway, haven't you gotten behind the wheel after having a couple of drinks? Haven't you broken the law?

      Well, yeah, they say, but I'm not a criminal. Oh, really? What are you, then? As I see it, you're just somebody who hasn't been caught. You're still a criminal, no better than many of those who've been branded felons for life.

      Perhaps there should be a box on the census form that says "I'm a criminal."

      Everyone who has ever committed a crime would be required to check it. If everyone were forced to acknowledge their own criminality, maybe we, as a nation, would second-guess our apparent zeal for denying full citizenship to those branded felons.

      In this country, we force millions of people -- who are largely black and brown -- into a permanent second-class status, simply because they once committed a crime. Once labeled a felon, you are ushered into a parallel social universe.

      You can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits -- forms of discrimination that we supposedly left behind.

      This kind of stigma, discrimination and social exclusion may befall you for no reason other than you were once caught with drugs.

      I doubt Barack Obama thinks of himself as a criminal, though he should. He has admitted to using illegal drugs during his college years -- lots, in fact. What if he thought of himself as a criminal? What if he identified that way? Would it lead him to feel a bit more compassion for those who are branded drug felons for life, unable to find work or housing, and deemed ineligible even for food stamps?

      Maybe if Obama thought of himself as a criminal he wouldn't have just endorsed spending even more money on prisons at a time when scarce resources would be much better spent on education or health care, or just about anything else.

      I am a criminal. Coming to terms with this aspect of my identity has helped me to see more clearly -- with blinders off -- the ways in which I have been encouraged not to feel any connection to "them," those labeled criminals.

      I see now that "they" are me, and I am them.


      Treatment vs. incarceration: U.S. officials debate handling of drug offenses

      By Ana Francisca Vega
      El Economista, Mexico City
      December 18, 2009

      WASHINGTON -- He had agreed to give me a tour of the streets here on the condition that I not reveal his name. To do so could cause problems with his superiors and co-workers at the police department. I consented. No one, I had been told, knew more than he did about how drug dealers operate in the U.S. capital.

      It was getting dark when we got into the vehicle and set off on our tour. "Turn at the corner," he said, "and you'll see." As if by magic, a group of people materialized before us. "Dealers," he said. "Heroin, but also cocaine and probably marijuana." That scene played out at least 30 times in the three hours we spent crisscrossing the streets.

      "Now turn left on this street. . . . Oh! Look at him. They call him 'Bobo,' and he's a lucky man. He must have just gotten out of prison," he said with a mixture of disbelief and anger.

      "Don't you find it frustrating to know that no sooner than are they arrested, most of them are right back on the streets doing exactly the same thing?" I asked.

      The officer was silent for a few seconds, as if searching for the right answer. Then, "I'm not Superman," he replied. "They do their job and I do mine. . . . I've known some of them for so long that they respect me. They see me as an authority figure. I've watched a lot of them grow up.

      "Look behind you," he said, as we watched the goings-on at one of the open-air drug markets. I turned my head and there, less than five minutes away, was the dome of the Capitol. There were other drug markets near the campus of Howard University Hospital and near Washington's recently built convention center.

      A few days later, as I was interviewing Inspector Brian Bray, commanding officer of the D.C. police's Narcotics and Special Investigations Division, one of his officers entered the room.

      Visibly pleased, the two men shared impressions about the preceding night. "We confiscated eight weapons," Bray said. I repeated my earlier question to the undercover officer: Isn't it frustrating to know that the person you arrested yesterday will soon be released and, true to form, will return to the streets to commit a crime? His answer surprised me.

      "You've got liberal judges, liberal juries that don't want to send people to jail," he said. "A lot of times it's a revolving door. They get ridiculously low sentences for hideous crimes."

      "But isn't it a matter of the number of people arrested, rather than the ideology of the judges and juries? How many people were arrested in D.C. on drug charges last year?" I asked him.

      "Around 10,000," he said, and, after thinking for a moment, added, "yes, I guess you could say that. We don't have enough space for that many people."

      Bray's story plays out repeatedly across the United States, where more than 30 percent of those incarcerated are serving sentences for dealing, possessing or using drugs. For years, the authorities have viewed widespread incarceration as the solution to drug trafficking and consumption. Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who recently proposed a criminal justice reform initiative, said the number of people incarcerated in the United States is 13 times higher than it was 25 years ago. The economic and social costs of incarceration -- with many inmates who have no record of violent crime -- are staggering.

      This situation might be about to change.

      Ever since President Ronald Reagan declared the "war on drugs," U.S. policy has focused on combating supply. Most of the country's resources -- more than 60 percent -- have been allocated to strengthen law enforcement, drug interdiction, crop eradication and international cooperation programs such as the Merida Initiative in Mexico and Plan Colombia. The rest is used for the treatment of drug addicts.

      The number of addicts in the United States has been estimated at 23 million, with 7.6 million in need of treatment. And yet, "demand has always been an afterthought of U.S. drug policy and its budget," said John Walsh, drug trafficking expert for the liberal Washington Office on Latin America, which promotes democracy and socioeconomic justice in Latin America and the Caribbean.

      A shift in emphasis or, to put it another way, the construction of a more balanced drug policy, is taking place slowly but surely. The key is in the cost. "Economic crisis oddly really plays a beneficial role here because all the states are looking at the budgets," said Doug Ierely, an aide to Webb. "It is making state officials reconsider their budget priorities," he said. "They are thinking more about evidence-based practices." The latter are mainly associated with programs to reduce treatment and rehabilitation.

      Perhaps inadvertently, budget constraints have revived the debate between two divergent positions, with proponents of incarceration to fight the drug problem on one side, and advocates of investing in programs scientifically proven to be effective in reducing illegal drug use on the other. The current state of the economy is like "the perfect storm," said Bill Piper, Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, one of the nongovernmental organizations most active in promoting addiction treatment and decriminalization.

      Because 90 percent of prisoners are held in local and state penitentiaries, it is the states that have most resented the budget crisis. At the state level, people are seeing the costs of a policy "that locks up a lot of people and maybe doesn't do the best in terms of helping provide treatment to people who are committing the crimes or dealing drugs," said Walsh. "There is even bipartisan support for thinking more seriously about it. So that has been a big boost for treatment."

      In recent years, 13 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal use and others have reviewed -- and changed -- some of their drug laws, New York, Kansas and Michigan notably among them. The District of Columbia is considering establishing regulations for distributing medical marijuana. And just a few months ago, California, traditionally at the forefront of decriminalization and demand- reduction policy initiatives, directed federal economic stimulus funds -- specifically the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant, an important source of anti-drug funding -- to treatment programs.

      In the California case, authorities had first intended to allocate the stimulus money for law enforcement. But the Drug Policy Alliance in California -- part of a network of groups that promote, among other things, emphasis on treatment rather than incarceration -- persuaded state officials to allocate the funds differently. Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, the group's deputy state director, said that if those funds had been spent on law enforcement, the government would had to have generated $160 million in additional revenue in 2010 to cover the costs of incarcerated drug offenders. In the end, the $135 million in grant funds were spent on treatment.

      Oregon officials decided to spend most of the stimulus money on a program that offers rehabilitation options to people who have been arrested on drug charges but have no prior records.

      The economic crisis has exacerbated the already precarious fiscal situation at the state level. The notion that a drug policy might generate huge additional costs has led some state governments to opt for a less expensive alternative. "For different reasons, some states are coming to the same conclusions, " said Dooley-Sammuli of the California Drug Policy Alliance. "We have to spend money differently."

      The effects of the economic crisis on state budgets, coupled with discomfort about high incarceration rates and the attendant economic and social consequences, is spurring a change that, while often silent, appears to be gaining momentum.

      "There is an increasing unease in this country about the rates of incarceration, and this could be capturing the zeitgeist and succeed.

      It is hard to think of any other indicator in which we do so badly," said Peter Reuter, a criminology professor at the University of Maryland, in the Washington suburbs.

      This is not to say that the obstacles have been surmounted. The U.S. government continues to use various means to pressure states into reversing innovative or more balanced policies.

      "In many ways, the federal government still discourages states from trying new approaches. There are limits on what states can do in terms of regulations if a federal law is in place," said Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance. Yet the transformation seems to have begun.

      In addition to budgetary pressures on the prison-centered approach, other factors have become increasingly relevant in the search for a more balanced drug policy. It is no coincidence, for example, that four of five early health-reform proposals in Congress included provisions on the right to addiction treatment.

      "That is a big change," said Joseph A. Califano Jr., former secretary of Health, Education and Welfare and founder of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in New York.

      "The fact that we are recognizing that mental heath and substance abuse treatment deserves to be treated the same way we treat physical health problems is very important. That will have a significant impact in terms of the way we deal with treatment."

      More significant is the apparent acceptance of this approach. "It is wonderful that there is no national debate. It means people have come to accept it," said Reuter, the University of Maryland professor. "A long time ago, I argued that drug policy would benefit from benign neglect."

      Politicians are finding it less difficult to openly discuss the need for a change as old paradigms begin to crumble. Asked about this in the context of his criminal justice reform initiative, Sen. Webb said, "I believe you should come to government with an eye toward fixing problems. That's what leadership is. It's about thoroughly thinking through the issue, educating and motivating people to care, reaching out and engaging those from across the philosophical spectrum, and be willing to accept accountability for the outcome."

      In addition to Webb's initiative, Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Dan Burton (R-Ind.) have proposed creating a commission to review U.S. drug policy in the Western Hemisphere, including demand reduction.

      This initiative, which, like Webb's, faces several legislative hurdles, is based on logic: Despite an investment of about $15 billion over the past two decades, the United States has failed to significantly reduce drug supply or demand.

      These recent shifts do not mean that ideology and criminalization are no longer an important factor in U.S. policymaking on drugs. "Stigma is a terrible, terrible problem. There is so much stigma and shame attached to this, and many people still think of this as a criminal issue," said Califano. What these shifts do indicate, however, is that policymakers are finding less political risk associated with advocating alternatives to incarceration -- such as addiction treatment.

      Recent polls supported this view. According to Lake Research Partners, 72 percent of Republicans, 88 percent of Democrats and 72 percent of independents supported including addiction treatment in any health reform bill. In addition, more than 60 percent of those polled said they would be willing to pay $2 more a month in insurance premiums for better addiction-treatment coverage.

      Although not at the center of national debate, public opinion is increasingly focused on the right of addicts to receive treatment rather than a prison sentence. "Public knowledge of the problem has slowly and silently changed. Now we know more about addictions and about the best ways of reducing consumption. . . . We also know that certain hard policies just don't work," said John Carnevale, a former official of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

      Although drug policy at the state level has undergone significant, though not always perceptible, changes in recent years, federal drug policy has remained virtually unchanged. "Frozen" is the way Walsh, the Latin affairs office analyst, put it. Since President Obama took office, the White House has been sending positive signals. Early indications will come when the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy presents its first anti-drug strategy in February.

      More emphasis on drug demand is forecast. "This Administration is drafting a balanced national drug policy that focuses on law enforcement, prevention and treatment. President Obama believes that all three components are critical to this Administration' s efforts to reducing the use of illegal drugs," according to the office. The office has created the Demand Reduction Interagency Working Group and has pledged to expand successful programs such as the drug courts.

      The president's budget request next year could determine the fate of the programs. We can say that the federal government seems to be gradually buying into the underlying premise of Webb's initiative, and those of Engel, Burton and the thousands of Americans who strive daily to implement a more effective drug policy with a lower social and human cost. In the end, it is not a matter of being "hard" on crime just for the sake of it, but rather one of combating it more intelligently.

      Treatment vs. incarceration

      Treat. Don't repeat

      Help repeat offenders kick their addictions

      Nov. 15, 2009

      We call prisons and jails correctional facilities, but the truth is, most of them do diddly-squat to correct inmates' tendency to commit crimes.

      Consider substance-abuse treatment, one of the best ways to break repeat offenders' criminal habits. Earlier this year, researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimated that about half half! of the 7.1 million Americans now locked up or on probation have some sort of addiction. But only one in five of those addicts receives effective treatment. That figure represents a horrible waste of lives and of taxpayer money.

      For every dollar that you spend on treatment of substance abuse in the criminal justice system, it saves society on average four dollars, NIDA director Nora Volkow told Scientific American in January. Her review of the scientific literature showed that rehab programs behind bars are good at keeping prisoners from returning to drugs once they're back on the streets.

      As an example, Volkow cited a prison program that treated heroin addicts with methadone. Addicts who received that treatment were seven times more likely than their unrehabbed peers to stay off heroin after their release, and three times more likely not to commit another offense.

      How are we doing locally? Recently, Chronicle reporter James Pinkerton reported that the demand for drug treatment at the Harris County Jail far outstrips the supply. We are not even close to having enough resources, Leonard Kincaid, of the Council on Alcohol and Drugs-Houston, told Pinkerton.

      This year, hundreds of inmates have languished on the waiting list for the jail's in-house addiction-treatment program. Matters are arguably even bleaker for an addict outside of jail, on probation. It can take up to 16 weeks to get into the county probation department's residential treatment program.

      In 16 weeks, an addict on the streets can find a lot of substances to abuse, a lot of crimes to commit, a lot of trouble to get into. And whether he ends up in the county emergency room or back in jail, the taxpayer will pick up the tab.

      It's not just humane to help substance abusers in jail or on probation to clean up their acts. Long-term, it's cheaper, too.

      Treat. Don't repeat

      August 28, 2009

      "Just keep grinnin' - We're winnin'!": Prosecutors debate the drug war

      Texas prosecutors on a comment string titled "Just keep grinnin' - We're winnnin'!" have been engaged in one of the more frank discussions I've seen among working law enforcement types about the efficacy of the war on drugs. The string was begun with just a couple of comments in 2004, but then updated recently (new comments bring a thread up to the top of their user system) when Mexico acted recently to decriminalize small amounts of drugs.

      Unsurprisingly, some prosecutors see Mexico's actions as waving a "white flag"; one of them suggesting that "this is a poor tribute to the hundreds of Mexican police and army members who have lost their lives in the fight to save their country."

      But I was more interested to read the earliest comment on the sting from a Tarrant County prosecutor writing five years ago who lamented:

      Sometimes it happens this way: I'm scratching out a plea on a case or revocation of one more dope defendant and the fear takes me. We are losing the "war on drugs." More than a decade ago, my father, a former prosecutor himself, told me that my job was to identify the truly bad actors and quarantine them from their prey. As to the rest? Keep them dogies rollin'. I'm not smart enough to know how to handle the drug problem but I can recognize what doesn't work and this is it. We cannot fill our prisons with dopers and allow the predators to roam free. In my view we shouldn't fill the prisons with dopers. And the small voice whispers,"If we did win the war on drugs what would you do all day?"

      Nobody but Colorado County's Ken Sparks took the bait back in 2004. He replied:

      When space is a problem, we all want to fill our prisons with violent offenders and not dopers. We have a mandated probation and treatment program for state jail possession cases. When they do not participate faithfully in treatment programs, what do you do? Sanctions with jail time, etc. should be employed. When violations continue, what then? One solution is to build more prisons. Perhaps the real solution (more money, again) is to have drug courts in every county. But it appears that drug courts are turning judges into glorified probation officers. I don't know the answer.

      The more recent responses to Mexico's decriminalization of small drug amounts in 2009 drew some fairly predictable themes. 156th Judicial District Attorney Martha Warner out of Beeville recounted the story of a man in his 20s who sexually assaulted and threatened young kids and also provided them with marijuana. Having established conclusively through this anecdote that marijuana use leads directly to child molestation, Warner pronounces, "Drugs are very dangerous for our children!!!!!" Another commenter agreed, citing the case of a "rolling pharmacist" who it turned out had been "molesting his OWN daughter for the past 5-6 years."

      An Assistant District Attorney out of Abilene pointed out the obvious fallacy in that reasoning: "I think the pedophiles in the examples above would use alcohol or other substances to groom their victims, if drugs weren't available." She further suggests:

      We clearly are not going to win the War on Drugs, although we've created a multi-billion dollar bureaucracy.

      I'd like to see California decriminalize and tax marijuana, so we could watch and see what happens to their economy. I've heard and read that marijuana is their largest cash crop.

      Obviously, some drugs are horrible, and European countries have tried to register and legally dispense those which are terribly addictive.

      Good luck to all of you who are criminal prosecutors, and doing the best you can. ...

      Also, if we had taxes from drug users, we might actually be making money back from some of those who cost us all so much and now contribute nothing. (Pretty bleak outlook.)

      Other prosecutors rejected the prospect of legalizing marijuana or any other presently illegal drug, including the DA Association's lobbyist Shannon Edmonds who thinks that "Full decriminalization will never happen here, IMO, so it's a waste of time talking about its merits/faults."

      Check out the whole string for more prosecutors debating the drug war. I thought it was an interesting discussion.

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

      Labels: District Attorneys, drug policy

      August 05, 2009

      Waiting list for in-prison treatment gone for first time ever

      The Austin Statesman reports on an important milestone in Texas' efforts to reduce prison overcrowding by expanding treatment and diversion programs ("After 15 years, waiting list ends for prison drug treatment programs," Aug. 5):

      For the first time since the Texas prison system's substance-abuse treatment programs began nearly 15 years ago, amid controversy over their cost and effectiveness, programs have no waiting list, prison officials said Tuesday.

      In years past, thousands of drug- and alcohol-addicted convicts had to wait for months in some cases years for space to open up in the treatment programs, filling prisons with felons who could have been paroled, and confounding a smooth transition of convicts from prisons to programs to parole.

      But officials said that because the Legislature voted two years to ago greatly expand the treatment programs, the chronic backlog that had plagued them since their inception, at the behest of then-Gov. Ann Richards, is now gone. At the same time, the prison population has decreased slightly in recent months, part of a national trend.

      This development will help further reduce prison overcrowding by allowing prisoners to complete requirements more quickly to qualify for parole, the Statesman reported:

      Rissie Owens, chairwoman of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, said the agency in past years had approved thousands of convicts for parole on the condition that they complete a treatment program, only to see them sit in prison for months even years because no space was available.

      "We can actually vote them into a program now and have them get in," she said. "That's great."

      Billed as the biggest shift for Texas corrections policy in years, the 2007 expansion of treatment programs by lawmakers greatly expanded the capacity of in-prison drug- and alcohol-treatment programs, opened transition treatment centers to help convicts succeed once they got out, expanded counseling and specialized drug-treatment programs, and opened lockups designed especially for habitual drunken drivers. The cost was more than $227 million.

      In 2007, Gov. Rick Perry proposed building two medium-security prisons, but legislative leaders opted for expanding the treatment programs instead, despite some concern about whether the initiative would work. ...

      State Rep. Jerry Madden, a Republican from Richardson who co-authored the 2007 legislation with Whitmire, said that having treatment beds available for convicts will mean that they can complete therapy programs before they are released from prison, giving them a better chance of success upon release. "This is exactly what we had in mind, where we wanted to be someday even though I'm somewhat surprised we got here so quickly," Madden said. "We know the history of the programs shows they work if they're done right."

      Bottom line: Investing in drug and alcohol treatment instead of building more prisons was an inspired approach that's clearly working in Texas. I'm sure state Sen. John Whitmire, Rep. Jerry Madden, and other legislators who bet on this strategy are happy and relieved to see things working out the way they predicted - I know I am!

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

      Labels: drug policy, Parole, SAFP


      After 15 years, waiting list ends for prison drug treatment programs

      New facilities helped curtail backlog.

      By Mike Ward
      August 05, 2009

      For the first time since the Texas prison system's substance-abuse treatment programs began nearly 15 years ago, amid controversy over their cost and effectiveness, programs have no waiting list, prison officials said Tuesday.

      In years past, thousands of drug- and alcohol-addicted convicts had to wait for months in some cases years for space to open up in the treatment programs, filling prisons with felons who could have been paroled, and confounding a smooth transition of convicts from prisons to programs to parole.

      But officials said that because the Legislature voted two years to ago greatly expand the treatment programs, the chronic backlog that had plagued them since their inception, at the behest of then-Gov. Ann Richards, is now gone. At the same time, the prison population has decreased slightly in recent months, part of a national trend.

      "It shows all the parts of our criminal justice system are working together right now ... and that's the first time in 16 years that I've been able to say that," said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, a Democrat from Houston who helped Richards push the treatment programs through the Legislature in the early 1990s.

      "This will go down as a very important day in the history of our system," he said. "What it will mean for most Texans is it will enhance public safety. If inmates can get the treatment they need, when they need it, they will come out a better person than when they came in."

      It was not clear how long the absence of a waiting list would last.

      Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the waiting lists had dwindled until Friday, when all major prison substance-abuse treatment programs caught up with demand thanks in part to the recent opening of a 400-bed contract treatment center in Burnet.

      Another treatment center with 550 bunks is slated to open soon in the East Texas city of Henderson, she said.

      "There are a few inmates with special needs that may be waiting for a day or so, but the backlog is gone for now," said Stuart Jenkins, the state's parole director whose division of the prison system oversees 78,000 ex-convicts on parole. "It's good news, definitely."

      Rissie Owens, chairwoman of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, said the agency in past years had approved thousands of convicts for parole on the condition that they complete a treatment program, only to see them sit in prison for months even years because no space was available.

      "We can actually vote them into a program now and have them get in," she said. "That's great."

      Billed as the biggest shift for Texas corrections policy in years, the 2007 expansion of treatment programs by lawmakers greatly expanded the capacity of in-prison drug- and alcohol-treatment programs, opened transition treatment centers to help convicts succeed once they got out, expanded counseling and specialized drug- treatment programs, and opened lockups designed especially for habitual drunken drivers. The cost was more than $227 million.

      In 2007, Gov. Rick Perry proposed building two medium-security prisons, but legislative leaders opted for expanding the treatment programs instead, despite some concern about whether the initiative would work.

      More controversial was the expansion of prison treatment programs in the early 1990s by Richards, who touted her experience as a recovering alcoholic. But owing to wary legislators and a tight budget, many of the proposed 12,000 beds were never built and many of those that were built were used to house regular convicts, not those in treatment.

      Budget red ink in 2003 cut those programs further.

      State Rep. Jerry Madden, a Republican from Richardson who co-authored the 2007 legislation with Whitmire, said that having treatment beds available for convicts will mean that they can complete therapy programs before they are released from prison, giving them a better chance of success upon release. "This is exactly what we had in mind, where we wanted to be someday even though I'm somewhat surprised we got here so quickly," Madden said. "We know the history of the programs shows they work if they're done right."

      "I always thought I'd be a really old man before I saw this day come, and I'm surprised it didn't take that long," said Whitmire, who turns 60 on Aug. 13.

      After 15 years, waiting list ends for prison drug treatment programs

      Drug Abusing Offenders Not Getting Treatment They Need in Criminal Justice System

      By The National Institute on Drug Abuse

      The vast majority of prisoners who could benefit from drug abuse treatment do not receive it, despite two decades of research that demonstrate its effectiveness, according to researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health.In a report published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, NIDA scientists note that about half of all prisoners (including some sentenced for non-drug-related offenses) are dependent on drugs, yet less than 20 percent of inmates suffering from drug abuse or dependence receive formal treatment.

      "Treating drug-abusing offenders improves public health and safety," said NIDA Director and report coauthor Dr. Nora D. Volkow. "In addition to the devastating social consequences for individuals and their families, drug abuse exacts serious health effects, including increased risk for infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C; and treatment for addiction can help prevent their spread.Providing drug abusers with treatment also makes it less likely that these abusers will return to the criminal justice system."

      The authors of the report suggest that the criminal justice system is in a unique position to encourage drug abusers to enter and remain in treatment, thereby disrupting the vicious cycle of drug use and crime. In fact, most studies indicate that outcomes for those who are legally pressured to enter treatment are as good as or better than outcomes for those who enter treatment without legal pressure, the researchers note.

      "Addiction is a stigmatized disease that the criminal justice system often fails to view as a medical condition; as a consequence, its treatment is not as available as it is for other medical conditions," stated Dr. Redonna K. Chandler, the report's principal author and chief of NIDA's Services Research Branch.

      There are several ways in which drug abuse treatment can be incorporated into the criminal justice system. These include therapeutic alternatives to incarceration, treatment merged with judicial oversight in drug courts, treatments provided in prison and jail, and reentry programs to help offenders transition from incarceration back into the community.

      Some communities cite costs as the reason for not treating drug-involved offenders; however, the report discusses the economic benefits of treating such offenders. "A dollar spent on drug courts saves about $4 in avoided costs of incarceration and health care; and prison-based treatment saves between $2 and $6," Chandler said.

      The report emphasizes that addiction is a chronic brain disease: that repeated drug exposure in those who are vulnerable triggers brain changes that result in the compulsive drug use and loss of control over drug-related behaviors that characterize addiction. "Viewing addiction as a disease does not remove the responsibility of the individual," said Volkow. "It highlights the responsibility of the addicted person to get drug treatment and society's responsibility to make treatment available."

      To learn more about the latest research on treatment for drug abusers in the criminal justice system, to download NIDA's Principles of Drug Abuse Treatment for Criminal Justice Populations; Click HERE


      WASHINGTON, D.C., May 28, 2009

      Substance abuse and addiction cost federal, state and local governments at least $467.7 billion in 2005, according to Shoveling Up II: The Impact of Substance Abuse on Federal, State and Local Budgets, a new 287-page report released today by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.

      The CASA report found that of $373.9 billion in federal and state spending, 95.6 percent ($357.4 billion) went to shovel up the consequences and human wreckage of substance abuse and addiction; only 1.9 percent went to prevention and treatment, 0.4 percent to research, 1.4 percent to taxation and regulation, and 0.7 percent to interdiction.

      Shoveling Up II: The Impact of Substance Abuse on Federal, State and Local Budgets

      This major report from The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University shows that substance abuse and addiction cost federal, state and local governments at least $467.7 billion in 2005.

      State governments spend almost 15 percent of their entire budgets on substance abuse and addiction and its consequences. If this were its own state budget category, it would rank second, behind spending on elementary and secondary education.

      Join Together, a project of CASA, has posted detailed spending data for most U.S. states on this website.

      How much does my state spend?

      Find out what Texas spends (PDF, 27 KB)
      Click HERE

      Get Involved: Texas
      Tell your elected officials about this report

      Texas Urged to Build on Prison Treatment System

      March 4, 2009
      News Summary

      Texas serves as a national model for providing addiction treatment and rehabilitation programs to prison inmates, but could do even more to cut recidivism rates and divert offenders from prison to treatment, according to former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

      The Austin American-Statesman reported March 4 that Dukakis visited Austin to promote increased investment in treatment and tout the cost savings of providing alternatives to incarceration.

      Dukakis said that Texas could build on the prison reforms started two years ago by expanding treatment coverage in the state Medicaid system.

      "Lives are being saved," Dukakis said. "There's nothing partisan about this issue ... I hope all the states can expand their programs like Texas has."

      "How often do you hear that -- someone from Massachusetts congratulating Texas?" said John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who chairs the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee. "Texas is trying. We're trying to make a difference."

      Dukakis was the Democratic nominee for president in 1988 and led Join Together's Blueprint for the States policy panel, a wide-ranging initiative to encourage policymakers to adopt best practices regarding addiction issues and invest in treatment and prevention services.

      Jones Co. inmate facility breaks ground

      By Angelia Joiner
      Special to the Reporter-News
      June 5, 2009

      Site preparation began this week on the Jones County Intermediate Sanction Facility located on the northeast side of Anson.

      The building will hold 950 inmates on a 64-acre site and is expected to cost roughly $25.5 million. It will be built by Hale-Mills Construction from Houston.

      Jones County Judge Dale Spurgin said plans for the facility were finalized May 28.

      David Payne, Hale-Mills Construction project manager, said a construction job fair will be held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday at Wingate by Wyndham at 3010 Catclaw Drive and South Clack Street in Abilene.

      The construction company will hire subcontractors, but the job fair is open to anyone. Resumes will be passed on to the subcontractors, Payne said. The company is looking to hire a job site secretary who will work directly for them and operators, mechanical concrete workers, steel erectors, carpenters, masons, electrical, general labor, plumbing, painters, drywall workers, and others will be employed through the subcontractors.

      Payne said at peak times, the site will have 150-200 workers.

      The new building will have an option to enlarge to 1,450 inmates but the planned breakdown of beds is 650 beds for the Intermediate Sanction Facility (ISF) and 300 beds for the Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility (SAFPF).

      Spurgin has said the ISF would house people on parole or probation whom a judge has sent for a violation rather than sending them back to prison. They can get counseling for life skills such as time management or receive other kinds of treatment. The stay is usually 30 to 45 days.

      The SAFPF is for people who have a chemical dependence and have been placed on probation. A judge can order them to this facility to complete drug treatment, and the typical stay is six months.

      The Texas Midwest Public Facility Corp. board, made up of Jones County officials and others, approved the facility earlier this year.

      The facility is contracting with the state to bring in inmates from across Texas.

      Plans for a new county jail have been delayed for about six or seven months Spurgin said.

      He said plans are to begin after the new year so revenues from the Jones County Intermediate Sanction Facility can make the payments on the new jail.

      The new jail is expected to cost in the $5.6 million range and will hold 96 inmates, increasing capacity from the 31 beds housed in the old jail.

      Spurgin said the construction of this large facility is expected to be complete in June 2010 and will provide 190 full-time positions ranging from the warden to counselors, educators, guards and clerical staff. An exact opening date has not been determined, but Spurgin said the state was told the facility would be available Sept. 1.

      Spurgin said throughout the public hearing process, there have been no negative comments about the project. "It's all been supportive," he said.

      Dealing with son's prison sentence only way I know

      By Bob West
      CNHI News Service

      (Editor's note: Bob West is sports editor of Port Arthur News in Texas, a sister newspaper to the Richmond Register. This column about his son's methamphetamine addiction a widespread problem in Kentucky is a sad example of the devastation the drug brings to users and their families.)

      Readers who turn to this space on Sundays looking to be entertained with a collection of odds and ends from the sports world will have to forgive a devastated dad for deviating from the norm. Sports moves to the back burner after you've spent a week in a courtroom and seen your son sentenced to 65 years in prison.

      I've spent the past few days wrestling over whether to address Damon's sad situation in a column and finally decided it was something I needed to do. Among the many reasons leading to my decision was an outpouring of love, prayers and compassion from family and friends, and from some folks Genie and I don't even know.

      These words on a card from Betty and Gene Scott sum it all up. "If you could listen to all the thoughts going out to you now, you'd hear a symphony of warmth and caring."

      So where do you start to explain how the high school quarterback, the All-American boy, the kid most everybody from his hometown really liked could end up breaking our hearts? In this case, the answer is as simple as two words methamphetamine addiction.

      That's another reason I wanted to write this column. If I can reach one kid, one parent with the human tragedy crystal meth made of Damon West, it will be my greatest achievement as a writer. Hopefully I can connect with more than one because this insidious drug is all too available.

      Anybody with concerns should go to the web site

      Jumping off the top of the lead page in bold letters is the quote, "The first thing people on methamphetamines lose is their common sense." It gets more eye-opening from there.

      Damon lost his common sense, his grasp of reality and eventually his freedom. He wasn't the same person who left home 15 years ago with a football scholarship to North Texas, the same guy who as recently as 2004 was impressing heavyweights in the Democratic party as a fund raiser for presidential candidate Dick Gephardt.

      The downfall began after he moved to Dallas in 2005. Our alarm bells started going off a year or so later. He began dating a stripper who was bad news and told us he was working for a limousine service and on the side buying things to resell from storage facilities. At times he would get belligerent with us over the phone.

      We began to suspect drug use. On the rare occasions he came home, we pleaded with him to get out of Dallas and move back in with us. I sent a dear friend from Houston, Barry Warner, to try and deliver the same message.

      Our words fell on deaf ears. Somehow we should have done more. But what? You can't grab a 30-year-old and forcibly move him? Not when he's sold his soul to meth.

      So now Damon sits in a jail cell, awaiting assignment to the prison system. There is no question he was guilty of being involved in a massive string of burglaries. The evidence was overwhelming. I can't even begin to describe how much it hurt to listen to the testimony of victim after victim put on the stand by the prosecution.

      Equally painful was watching some of the losers trotted out to testify against him. Two of them had to be brought from their own jail cells. These were people the Damon we used to know would never have associated with. But his common sense was long gone.

      Nothing we saw or heard, however, prepared us to hear a sentence of 65 years. Murderers, rapists and child molesters don't get that kind of time. Actually, since he was a first offender and there was compelling testimony from a state-paid psychologist and psychiatrist who did extensive testing on him, we hoped for probation.

      Our desire was to get him in a drug treatment facility, then bring him back home under a strong probation and community service requirement, and have him speak about what meth had done to him at any school that was receptive.

      Included in the testimony presented by the doctors who interviewed him, and put him through batteries of tests, was that he'd been sexually molested by a baby sitter at age nine (we knew about it and he received counseling), that he suffers from attention deficit disorder (we didn't know), that he was not a sociopath and that what he needed most was drug rehab.

      The investigator working with Damon's legal team said we assembled the strongest lineup of character witnesses he'd ever seen. Included was former Texas land commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Garry Mauro and Arthur Schecter, a Houston attorney and a former ambassador to Bermuda under Bill Clinton.

      Both had worked closely with Damon during the 2004 campaign. Schechter even gave him the keys to his River Oaks mansion to come and go as he pleased when in Houston.

      Also testifying on his behalf was his priest where he attended church in Port Arthur, Father Don Donahugh, his football coach at TJ, Mike Owens, and his godfather and former editor of the Port Arthur News, Bill Maddox. His mother and I were also put on the stand.

      Ultimately, it didn't make any difference. Even though no guns were used and none of the victims were ever physically confronted, no mercy was shown.

      Using a fairly new law that holds when three or more persons are involved in burglaries it can be treated as organized crime, they buried him. He's not eligible for parole for 15 years. It's doubtful he'll ever get the drug treatment he needs.

      Meanwhile, Genie and I are struggling and shedding a lot of tears but we'll be OK. Ditto for Damon's brothers, Brandon and Grayson.

      Although our love is unconditional, we're alternately furious with Damon for destroying what could have been such a productive life, and consumed with grief over the loss of that caring, charismatic kid who left home 15 years ago with such big dreams.

      Above all, we hope and pray meth doesn't bring down someone else's child or loved one. Since this sordid chapter in our lives began, we have learned Grayson's wife had two brothers driven to suicide by meth addiction.

      In closing, we want to thank everyone who has reached out to us, and those who have wanted to but just didn't know what to say. Your thoughts and prayers have been a blessing.

      Bob West is the sports editor of The Port Arthur (Texas) News. He can be reached at

      May 12, 2009

      Reliance on fees left drug courts underfunded

      According to the Killeen Daily Herald ("Bell County making progress on drug court," May 12), the Lege did not provide enough funding for drug courts mandated by the 80th Texas Legislature in 2007, putting some counties in the position of possibly losing state probation funds:

      A mandate came out of the last legislative session, requiring counties with a population of more than 200,000 to create a drug court.

      Bell County received $100,000 for the program, but [County Judge Jon] Burrows said this will not cover all the expenses incurred, for which they originally requested $240,000.

      The county applied for $261,000 in state grants for the next fiscal year.

      If the county does not implement a drug court, the state would withdraw funding from adult probation programs.

      Burrows said the risk of not having state funds for those services is enough incentive to implement the drug court, even though he and other officials said a drug court was not needed in Bell County.

      "Our judges were already doing the same thing a drug court would do," Burrows said in an interview last month. "This is another unfunded mandate on us for a program we didn't ask for, and our judges said we don't need."

      Burrows said he contacted the governor's office on criminal justice, which told him the funding mechanism in the statute failed to generate enough funds for all Texas counties.

      Todd Jermstad, interim director for Bell County's judicial district Community Supervision and Corrections Department, created Bell County's drug court plan with Judge Rick Morris of the 169th District Court.

      "There are still grants that can be disbursed, that free up funding for this year through August," Jermstad said. "The biggest need is for outpatient treatment, but the state did not provide enough money for that."

      Drug court will begin as soon as the county receives grants for it.

      To me, this shows why it can be problematic to rely on probationers' fees to pay for criminal justice programming when they're already overloaded and too high. Paying for outpatient treatment is much cheaper than sending more folks to prison (which is paid for out of state general revenue), so in that sense it's penny wise but pound foolish to not do a drug court because probationers' fees won't cover it.

      We'll see what the conference committee on the budget comes up with, but I'm somewhat concerned that the 81st Legislature hasn't included enough resources to make up this shortfall and pay for necessary treatment programs. That leaves new Texas stimulus funds for law-enforcement grants as the main available source for making up that amount. That money will be distributed entirely at the Governor's discretion.

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

      Labels: Drug courts, fees, Grants, Probation


      Fairness in Drug Sentencing

      Published: April 30, 2009

      Congresss decision to mandate longer prison terms for people arrested with crack cocaine than those caught with the powdered form of the drug was both irrational and discriminatory.

      The theory behind the law, that crack cocaine cooked in baking soda was more addictive and led to more violent crime was soon proved false. But by then, the country was locked into a policy under which the mainly minority drug users arrested with small amounts of crack were getting harsher sentences than white users caught with far larger amounts of powder.

      The United States Sentencing Commission, which sets sentencing guidelines for the federal courts, reports that in 2006, 82 percent of the people convicted under the federal crack statute were black and only 9 percent were white. Many of the people given those harsh sentences were also first-time offenders who could have been rehabilitated through community-based drug treatment programs. In addition to ruining countless young lives, the policy undermined trust and confidence in the criminal justice system.

      Congress has repeatedly ignored calls to equalize sentencing, partly because Justice Department officials in previous administrations have argued against it. This week, however, Lanny A. Breuer, the new chief of the Justice Departments Criminal Division, told lawmakers that it was time to revisit the crack/cocaine disparity.

      Mr. Breuer argued that the sentencing disparity was difficult to justify based on the facts and science, including evidence that crack is not an inherently more addictive substance than powder cocaine. The law was especially problematic, he continued, because a growing number of citizens view it as fundamentally unfair.

      Mr. Breuer is right. Instead of perpetuating this discrimination, Congress should quickly move to equalize the penalties for the possession of crack and cocaine.

      A version of this article appeared in print on May 1, 2009, on page A22 of the New York edition.

      Fairness in Drug Sentencing

      Number of Black Americans in State Prisons for Drug Offenses Declines

      By Darryl Fears
      Washington Post Staff Writer
      April 14, 2009

      For the first time since crack cocaine sparked a war on drugs 20 years ago, the number of black Americans in state prisons for drug offenses has fallen sharply, while the number of white prisoners convicted for drug crimes has increased, according to a report released today.

      The D.C.-based Sentencing Project reported that the number of black inmates in state prisons for drug offenses had fallen from 145,000 in 1999 to 113,500 in 2005, a 21.6 percent decline. Over the same period, the number of white drug offenders rose steadily, from 50,700 to more than 72,300, a 42.6 percent increase. The number of Latino drug offenders was virtually unchanged at about 51,000.

      The findings represent a significant shift in the racial makeup of those incarcerated for drugs and could signal a gradual change in the demographics of the nation's prison population 2 million, which has been disproportionately black for decades. Drug offenders make up about a quarter of the overall prison population.

      The Sentencing Project report and other experts said the numbers could reflect two factors: an increased reliance by prosecutors and judges on prison alternatives such as drug courts, and a shift in police focus to methamphetamines, which are used and distributed mostly by white Americans. In addition, the report said, crack cocaine use has declined steadily since the 1990s, and so have police arrests.

      The report relied heavily on data compiled by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics and covered six years ending in 2005, the last year the bureau broke down the state prison population by race and drug offense.

      African American drug offenders, who have been convicted most often for dealing and possessing crack cocaine, still made up a disproportionate share of the total, 44 percent in 2005. That was down from nearly 58 percent six years earlier, but still represented a disproportionate share, because black Americans make up only about 12 percent of the U.S. population.

      The number of white state drug offenders rose from 20 percent to 29 percent, and Latino prisoners made up 20 percent of inmates.

      "I have no doubt that crystal meth explains some of the white increase, but I'm not ready to say it's the reason for all of the white increase," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, which opposes stiff penalties for nonviolent drug crimes. "It's also hard to imagine that [drug courts] are not having some effect. Most drug courts are in urban areas where African Americans live."

      Twenty percent of white inmates used methamphetamines in the month before they were arrested, compared with 1 percent of black inmates, according to interviews conducted in the nation's 14,500 state prisons and 3,700 federal prisons.

      Drug courts offer nonviolent offenders the option of undergoing rigorous substance abuse treatment and criminal rehabilitation or going to jail. There are more than 2,000 such courts in operation, mostly in cities with large black communities that were ravaged by violence associated with crack cocaine. White suspects are also increasingly winding up in drug courts for abusing methamphetamines.

      Mauer also hypothesized that drug dealers might have shifted from open air crack cocaine markets to dealing indoors, making them harder for police to bust. And he speculated that because so many African American men have been incarcerated, there are fewer on the street to be arrested.

      But James E. Felman, co-chairman of the Sentencing Committee for the American Bar Association, said that in Tampa, where he practices law, police are still arresting black suspects for crack possession and distribution, and handing out long sentences.

      "I can't second-guess their study, but I haven't seen a change," Felman said. "Maybe we're getting smarter on crime in some states. That could be part of it."

      David Muhlhausen, a senior policy analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation, said stronger police enforcement of methamphetamine trafficking and use, coupled with treatment options mostly for urban crack cocaine offenders, probably caused the shift.

      "There is some data out there that suggests that drug courts and drug treatments reduce recidivism," he said. "If you take the less serious offenders and put them into programs other than prison it would be a benefit to society."

      The war on drugs began in 1986, when Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act to combat violence associated with the crack cocaine trade.

      Lawmakers were prompted by the death of University of Maryland basketball player Len Bias, who they mistakenly believed had died from ingesting crack. Bias overdosed on powder cocaine.

      Last year, then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) joined several of his colleagues in saying his support of the legislation was a mistake. As a result of the law, more than a half-million people have been incarcerated for drug offenses in state and federal prison, a massive increase from the 40,000 who were jailed for the same offenses in 1980.

      According to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics last year, 7.2 million people are under prison supervision, as inmates, parolees and probationers, at a cost of about $45 billion per year.

      California, which has one of the nation's largest prison populations, farmed out 170,000 inmates to private prisons as far away as Tennessee in 2006 to relieve costs, and has relaxed its penal code to relieve prison overcrowding.

      Jeffrey L. Sedgwick, a former director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, said the record incarceration might be worth the cost. "As the number of people under correctional supervision goes up, crime goes down," he said. Conservative estimates put the cost of violent crime at about $17 billion, Sedgwick said.

      Number of Black Americans in State Prisons for Drug Offenses Declines

      April 13, 2009


      Addiction Behind Bars

      The United States must do more to curb the spread of diseases like AIDS and hepatitis C in prison, where infection rates are high and inmates can easily spread disease through unprotected sex or by sharing needles.

      Drug treatment in prison is clearly part of the solution. But by some estimates, fewer than one in five inmates who need formal treatment are actually getting it. Thats alarming, given that about half the prison population suffers from drug abuse or dependency problems.

      Addicted prisoners cause problems outside the walls. After theyre freed, addicts with H.I.V. or AIDS can infect spouses and lovers.

      They feed their addictions by returning to crime, which lands them back in prison and starts the terrible cycle over again.

      The most effective programs provide inmates with high-quality treatment in prison and continue that treatment when prisoners return to their communities. Such programs have been shown to reduce both drug use and recidivism.

      But good programs are rare, according to a report earlier this year in The Journal of the American Medical Association. Prisons typically rely on the abstinence-only model, which fails miserably with heroin addicts. Moreover, prison officials are notoriously hostile to methadone maintenance and other chemically based therapies that have long been a standard for people addicted to opiates.

      Prison treatment is particularly disastrous in New York, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch. Imprisoned addicts, the authors say, are typically shut out of treatment until their sentences are nearly over because of ill-conceived policies that give priority to those who are about to be released.

      New rules created earlier this month should help address these problems. The rules give oversight responsibility for prison treatment programs to the State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, an agency that develops treatment programs and licenses treatment providers.

      The agency will be required to make sure that prison drug treatments are tailored to inmates needs. It will also monitor the programs, filing annual reports to the governor and Legislature. Drug-policy advocates hope that the new arrangement will improve treatment and provide timely help for addicted inmates. That would be good for public health. It could reduce crime, too.

      Addiction Behind Bars

      I am the U.S. and I'm Addicted to Drugs

      Editorial Board
      March 27, 2009

      Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's comments about the shared responsibility between the U.S. and Mexico in the fight against drug trafficking and the violence it provokes are as academics are fond of saying necessary but not sufficient.

      Her comments acknowledging the role of the U.S. demand for drugs and that U.S. gunrunners are arming the cartels were most welcomed by her Mexican hosts but, frankly, are nothing new.

      It is as if both countries are taking the first of the famous 12 steps in dealing with substance abuse: Admit you have a problem.

      Mexican President Felipe Caldern has been at the first step for quite some time now, deploying Army troops to the border areas and speaking out about the cartel's evil impact on both sides of the border. It is unusual candor for a head of state, and the blunt talk underlines a commitment to do something about it.

      Doing something about it includes Caldern's call for an overhaul of the Mexican judicial system and attacking corruption throughout the Mexican government. Unlike some of his predecessors, Caldern has not backed away from seeking help from the United States leaving him an easy target for domestic critics. He has even reached out to Canada.

      Earlier this week, Wally Oppal, attorney general of British Columbia, and Rommel Moreno Manjarrez, attorney general of the Mexican state of Baja California, signed an agreement vowing cooperation and sharing information about "criminal activities that transcend international borders."

      Caldern's effort is as necessary as Clinton's candor on the U.S. contribution to the drug trade, and just as insufficient.

      After the admission that there is a problem, the road ahead looks a little murkier and politically problematic on both sides of the border.

      Mexicans are wary of U.S. intentions and especially sensitive about talk of militarizing the border, which evokes images of 1846 and the U.S. invasion of Mexico that resulted in that nation's loss of what is now the Southwestern United States.

      Another complication is that Caldern's term ends in 2012, and he is constitutionally barred from seeking re-election. So the clock is ticking on his presidency, and there is no guarantee that his successor will continue the march against the cartels with the zeal Caldern has shown.

      On this side, talk of a U.S. crackdown on illegal gun smuggling has already provoked a strong reaction from gun rights groups that threaten a noisy fight against anything they consider a threat to the Second Amendment.

      Constitutional scholars have long argued about the meaning and intent of that amendment, but an argument that the Second Amendment protects illegal gun trade would be a huge leap in both faith and logic.

      Demand for drugs in the United States continues unabated, and as long there is a market for the cocaine that passes through Mexico and the marijuana it produces, someone will sell it and deliver it.

      Various programs aimed at curtailing drug consumption have a spotty record of success. Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" approach became a punch line. Lowering criminal penalties for possession of marijuana in small quantities has had some impact, but there is still tremendous pressure on jails that house people imprisoned on drug convictions.

      The law-enforcement approach to curtailing the drug trade is certainly an important component, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that elected leaders in the three countries need to take a good, hard look at fundamental policy shifts in confronting the drug trade.

      The time has come for a serious discussion about decriminalizing drugs even further. It won't be an easy talk to have. It is beyond Utopian to think that a wholesale decriminalization would cure all the societal ills created by illegal drug trafficking.

      President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs in the 1970s, and three decades later we're still in it with scant progress to show for all the time, effort and money we've poured into that war.

      This isn't a discussion that will take place tomorrow or even next month, when President Barack Obama visits Mexico, but it's one we should be prepared to have.

      I am the U.S. and I'm Addicted to Drugs

      Dukakis: Texas model in prison rehab

      By Mike Ward
      March 4, 2009

      Michael Dukakis knows the deadly spiral of addiction well.

      His wife, Kitty, beat a highly publicized, years-long addiction to diet pills and anti-depressants.

      As governor of Massachusetts in the 1980s, Dukakis championed cutting- edge treatment programs for imprisoned drunk drivers in his Bay State, among the first in the nation. He launched programs to curb teen-aged drinking and drug abuse.

      As the Democratic nominee for president in 1988, he challenged Americans to kick their habit of drink and drugs.

      On Tuesday, Dukakis, 75, brought his rehab message to Austin, in meetings with state leaders to urge them to grow Texas treatment programs even expand some to cover Medicaid recipients.

      And he brought congratulations: Texas is a national model, by greatly expanding its prison treatment and rehabilitation programs two years ago in a move that was criticized.

      So far, recent reports show, that expansion may be paying off with recidivism rates that appear to be dropping, and with prison growth flat-lining so that no expensive new lockups will need to be built for the foreseeable future.

      Lives are being saved, Dukakis told, in an exclusive interview in his suite at the Driskill Hotel. Theres nothing partisan about this issue. This issue was not mentioned in any of the State of the State messages this year, but its one of the most important issues we face.

      Heres why, Dukakis says:

      For every alcoholic or drunken driver or addicted drug-user who receives treatment, achieves sobriety and becomes a productive citizen, taxpayers spend less and less to deal with the problems.

      For everyone who kicks a drug habit, less cocaine and heroin and other illicit drugs are consumed in the United States and that cuts the profits of the drug cartels and street gangs.

      Five of the worlds population in this country accounts for 50 percent of the worlds cocaine use, Dukakis said. With the war thats going on on the border, that could spill into Texas, we need to stop providing the cartels profits and stop the demand for the drugs.

      Theres a massive silence on this issue. Its amazing.

      Dukakis is on the board of a Massachusetts-based group called Join Together that advocates for effective drug and alcohol policy, prevention and treatment.

      Im here in Texas to first say, congratulations to Texas for doing this (expanding the prison programs, he said. I hope all the states can expand their programslike Texas has.

      We not only need these programs, we need education programs beginning in the elementary grades to teach children not to use drugs and alcohol.

      Programs like these prevention, treatment, rehabilitation pay enormously with the lives they save and in the improved public safety that results. If we send people to prison and provide them with no programs, they will come out one day and go back into their community and return to the same cycle of abuse they were in before.

      For her part, Kitty Dukakis is just as outspoken and committed to the same goals as her husband.

      I wish what I have been able to achieve for many others, she said. Texas is doing the right thing.

      And from Senate Criminal Justice Committee John Whitmire, D-Houston, one of the Texans who the Dukakis came to Austin to congratulate, came this response:

      How often do you hear that someone from Massachusetts congratulating Texas. Texas is trying. Were trying to make a difference.

      Dukakis: Texas model in prison rehab

      Drug program gets credit for halting prisoner increase

      By Mike Ward
      February 20, 2009

      Texas' prison population has stopped growing for the time being, thanks in part to changes in corrections policy two years ago that boosted financing for rehabilitation programs, new statistics revealed Thursday. Texas will not have to consider building new prisons at a time when the economy's struggles are pinching the state budget, officials said.

      "We put 6,000 treatment beds on line in the past two years ... and this is the initial result: just what we expected," said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, who co-wrote legislation mandating the expanded treatment programs in 2007.

      Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said the statistics show "a dramatic turnaround." Thursday's testimony by the Legislative Budget Board to the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee marked the first public report card on the new programs, which two years ago were championed by corrections advocates as a step forward and opposed by some prosecutors and police groups as too soft on crime.

      "Crime is down; the programs are working," said Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which operates the 112-prison system. "It's been proven before that these types of programs have an impact on recidivism, so these new numbers are no surprise."

      According to the report, the number of convicts in state prisons is expected to remain steady this year and then decline slightly the following year for the first time in several years.

      In 2012, however, the prison population could begin increasing again, and by 2014, it is expected to grow from the current 155,000 to nearly 158,000, according to the Legislative Budget Board.

      Billed at the time as the biggest shift for Texas corrections policy in years, the 2007 changes expanded the capacity of in-prison drug and alcohol treatment programs, opened new transition treatment centers to help convicts succeed once they got out, expanded counseling and specialized drug treatment programs, and opened new lockups designed especially for habitual drunken driving offenders.

      The total cost was more than $227 million. Money is being sought this year for additional treatment beds, which could further reduce the prison population, said state Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, who is co-author of the plan and chairman of the House Corrections Committee.

      Drug program gets credit for halting prisoner increase

      Rehab, Not Relapse

      By Tim Swenson
      Jan 26 2009
      Column Closing Arguments

      The other night I was watching The Shawshank Redemption, a film about a group of prisoners living behind bars. At one poignant moment, one of the prisoners, Red, is asked whether or not he feels hes been rehabilitated after serving time. To that he responds, Rehabilitated? You know, I dont have any idea what that means.

      Upon a closer look at the state of affairs in America, it appears the U.S. prison system too fails to understand what rehabilitation is.

      The driving force behind our incarceration system is twofold: We aim to punish wrongdoing as a means of deterrence, but we also want to rehabilitate criminals so that they may again function in and contribute to society. It is my view, however, that in past decades we have placed too much emphasis on the former and not enough on the latter.

      By every measurable standard, the prison system is failing our nation the notion of incarceration as we see it now is flawed. A prison essentially amounts to a grouping of hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals that society has set apart from law-abiding citizens. We send these people to one place, keep them there for a period of time and then release them. We are allowing them a venue where they can share stories and tips and build what will be, for many, the only viable relationships they will have when released.

      Prisoners go in for misdemeanors and walk out equipped with the knowledge and contacts to commit felonies. Prisons are places where criminals can meet criminals. Its no wonder that a 2006 study found that within three years of release, a staggering 67 percent were rearrested and 52 percent were sent back to prison. This is to be expected, considering that we currently operate under a punish over help mindset. We are giving these people time-outs without the critical lesson learned that helps prevent relapses.

      Critics of the prison system can also look to the significant economic burden that the system places on taxpayers. According to a White House study, the average cost per year to keep one prisoner behind bars is roughly $23,542 and growing exponentially each year.

      Multiply that by the 2007 prison population of 2,293,157 and it comes out to a $53,985,502, 094 burden on taxpayers. Each of us pays about $388 per year for a failed prison system.

      Alternatives must be explored. One such idea addresses drug abuse:

      Studies have concluded that intensive drug rehabilitation clinics are more effective and more cost-efficient than is incarceration in combating drug abuse. The same study that determined the yearly costs per prisoner found that the cost of a successful drug treatment plan was about $9,000 less than half the incarceration rate. The study also concluded that only 3.3 percent of those in treatment were rearrested within the first six months after release, compared to the 12.1 percent of those not in the program.

      Why do we allow this to go on? People are scared. As a society, we require some sort of closure and believe that locking a person away for 10 years will do the trick. We remain blissfully unaware that in 10 years, that person will likely emerge from the prison system in worse shape than when he or she entered.

      Politicians dont make any effort to dispel the misconception. They have something to gain by keeping more and more criminals locked up.

      One study found that, were everyone in prison released without jobs, the unemployment rate would be 1.3 percent higher.

      In addition, businesses stand to make a fortune off of the prison population, Convicts are perfect consumers: They are a captive audience, forced to use certain products without any alternatives.

      The Prison Policy Initiative found that one food company, VitaPro Meat, made $34 million dollars per year from the Texas prison system alone. Its a goldmine for big business and one that they are reluctant to let go. Because they thrive off of repeat costumers, rehabilitation is simply bad for business.

      We must reform the prison system as we see it now. We are living under a false sense of security when we lock people away without giving them the tools to help themselves. If we are not going to help them overcome their difficulties, then we might as well give every criminal a life sentence, because anything else is only making the problem worse. The alternatives to general incarceration are there before we shrug them off as being soft on crime, we need to take a hard look at our current system. If Americans think that locking criminals away will assuage their fears, maybe we all could use a little rehabilitation as well.

      Tim Swenson is a junior in the College, a cadet in Army ROTC and a GUSA senator. He can be reached at swenson@thehoya. com. Closing Arguments appears every other Tuesday.

      To send a letter to the editor on a recent campus issue or Hoya story or a viewpoint on any topic, contact opinion@thehoya. com. Letters should not exceed 300 words, and viewpoints should be between 600 to 800 words.

      Rehab, Not Relapse

      Judge quest to decriminalize minor drug use gets support

      Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
      Jan. 14, 2009

      As the Texas Legislature begins its session, a Houston judge is again arguing to end jail time for criminals caught with small amounts of cocaine and crack, but this time he has the support of 15 colleagues.

      State District Judge Michael McSpadden on Wednesday sent a letter to the states top officials and Houstons senators and representatives asking for a change in what he called draconian laws.

      During the last session, McSpadden stood alone when he asked that charges for possession of a controlled substance of less than 1 gram be reduced from a state jail felony to a misdemeanor. Two years later, judges from both major political parties are joining the Republican who has been on the bench for more than 20 years.

      Sixteen of us feel that its just unfair to be convicted for a residue amount and be labeled a felon, which changes your whole life, McSpadden said. Were not talking about legalizing it; were talking about making it a misdemeanor.

      Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos said the problem is multifaceted, and she is studying the best ways to solve the problems associated with drug abuse, including pre-trial diversion and residential treatment centers.

      She said she was looking at the big picture and noted that Class A misdemeanors could still involve jail time, which wouldnt help jail overcrowding, and that small drug arrests lower other crimes in neighborhoods.

      Lykos also pointed out that any drug user contributes money to criminal empires, including drug lords in Mexico and terrorists worldwide.

      Anyone who uses illicit drugs has blood on their hands, she said. In his letter, McSpadden suggested reducing the charge and mandating drug treatment. He also recommended funding misdemeanor drug courts.

      McSpadden said 25 percent to 30 percent of Harris Countys 22 criminal district court dockets are felony charges for less than 1 gram of a controlled substance.

      The change, McSpadden argues, would lower dockets and create uniform enforcement across the state. He noted that Dallas County police and prosecutors place a lower priority on these offenses, leading to disparate treatment between counties.

      McSpadden said his concerns come from fielding complaints about the system from juries and residents.

      The War on Drugs isnt working, and we as judges realize it, McSpadden said. And the public realizes it.

      During the last session, the proposal didnt make it out of committee.

      Chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, didnt return calls for comment on the proposal late Wednesday.

      Judges who signed on with McSpadden include fellow Republicans Debbie Mantooth Stricklin, Jeannine Barr, Vanessa Velasquez, Denise Collins, Marc Carter, Belinda Hill, Joan Campbell and Jim Wallace.

      Democrats supporting the initiative, who were all elected in November, include Ruben Guerrero, Shawna Reagin, Kevin Fine, David Mendoza, Randy Roll, Hazel Jones and Maria Jackson.

      Judge quest to decriminalize minor drug use gets support


      The Evidence Gap

      Drug Rehabilitation or Revolving Door?

      Leah Nash for The New York Times
      THERAPY Mark Wyatt leading a session at CODA, a treatment program in Oregon.

      CODAs director said a system that tracked clients and defined targets was needed.

      Published: December 22, 2008

      ROSEBURG, Ore. Their first love might be the rum or vodka or gin and juice that is going around the bonfire. Or maybe the smoke, the potent marijuana that grows in the misted hills here like moss on a wet stone.

      The Evidence Gap

      Substance-Abuse Treatment Articles in this series are exploring medical treatments used despite scant proof that they work and are examining steps toward medicine based on evidence.

      Leah Nash for The New York Times
      PURSUING RECOVERY Patients and their families waiting for methadone at CODA in Portland, Ore.

      But it hardly matters. Here as elsewhere in the country, some users start early, fall fast and in their reckless prime can swallow, snort, inject or smoke anything available, from crystal meth to prescription pills to heroin and ecstasy. And treatment, if they get it at all, can seem like a joke.

      After the first couple of times I went through, they basically told me that there was nothing they could do, said Angella, a 17-year-old from the central Oregon city of Bend, who by freshman year in high school was drinking hard liquor every day, smoking pot and sampling a variety of harder drugs. They were like, Uh, I dont think so.

      She tried residential programs twice, living away from home for three months each time. In those, she learned how dangerous her habit was, how much pain it was causing others in her life. She worked on strengthening her relationship with her grandparents, with whom she lived. For two months or so afterward she stayed clean.

      Then I went right back, Angella said in an interview. After a while, you know, you just start missing your friends.

      Every year, state and federal governments spend more than $15 billion, and insurers at least $5 billion more, on substance-abuse treatment services for some four million people.

      That amount may soon increase sharply: last year, Congress passed the mental health parity law, which for the first time includes addiction treatment under a federal law requiring that insurers cover mental and physical ailments at equal levels.

      Many clinics across the county have waiting lists, and researchers estimate that some 20 million Americans who could benefit from treatment do not get it. Yet very few rehabilitation programs have the evidence to show that they are effective.

      The resort-and-spa private clinics generally do not allow outside researchers to verify their published success rates. The publicly supported programs spend their scarce resources on patient care, not costly studies. And the field has no standard guidelines.

      Each program has its own philosophy; so, for that matter, do individual counselors. No one knows which approach is best for which patient, because these programs rarely if ever track clients closely after they graduate.

      Even Alcoholics Anonymous, the best known of all the substance-abuse programs, does not publish data on its participants success rate. What we have in this country is a washing-machine model of addiction treatment, said A. Thomas McClellan, chief executive of the nonprofit Treatment Research Institute, based in Philadelphia.

      You go to Shady Acres for 30 days, or to some clinic for 60 visits or 60 doses, whatever it is. And then youre discharged and everyones crying and hugging and feeling proud and youre supposed to be cured.

      He added: It doesnt really matter if youre a movie star going to some resort by the sea or a homeless person. The system doesnt work well for what for many people is a chronic, recurring problem.

      In recent years state governments, which cover most of the bill for addiction services, have become increasingly concerned, and some, including Delaware, North Carolina, and Oregon, have sought ways to make the programs more accountable.

      The experience of Oregon, which has taken the most direct and aggressive action, illustrates both the promise and perils of trying to inject science into addiction treatment.

      Evidence-Based Treatments In 2003 the Oregon Legislature mandated that rehabilitation programs receiving state funds use evidence-based practices techniques that have proved effective in studies.

      The law, phased in over several years, was aimed at improving services so that addicts like Angella would not be doomed to a lifetime of rehab, repeating the same kinds of counseling that had failed them in the past or landing in worse trouble.

      You can get through a lot of programs just by faking it, said Jennifer Hatton, 25, of Myrtle Creek, Ore., a longtime drinker and drug user who quit two years ago, but only after going to jail and facing the prospect of losing her children. Thats what did it for me my kids and I wish it didnt have to come to that.

      When practiced faithfully, evidence-based therapies give users their best chance to break a habit. Among the therapies are prescription drugs like naltrexone, for alcohol dependence, and buprenorphine, for addiction to narcotics, which studies find can help people kick their habits.

      Another is called the motivational interview, a method intended to harden clients commitment upon entering treatment.

      In M.I., as it is known, the counselor, through skilled questioning, has the addict explain why he or she has a problem, and why it is important to quit, and set goals.

      Studies find that when clients mark their path in this way instead of hearing the lecture from a counselor, as in many traditional programs they stay in treatment longer.

      Psychotherapy techniques in which people learn to expect and tolerate restless or low moods are also on the list. So is cognitive behavior therapy, in which addicts learn to question assumptions that reinforce their habits (like Ill never make friends who dont do drugs) and to engage their nondrug activities and creative interests.

      For Angella, this kind of counseling made a difference. She spent several months in a program run by Adapt, an addiction treatment center here in Roseburg, a small city about 175 miles south of Portland. In treatment, she said, she learned how to just be with, and feel bad moods without turning to drink or drugs; and to throw herself into creative projects like collage and painting.

      The program has helped her reconnect with her father and to enroll in college beginning in January. I want to be a teacher, and someone at the program is advising me on that, she said in an interview. Thats the plan, to just move out and away from my old life. A friend of hers in the program, Alex, a 16-year-old from Roseburg, said that the therapy helped him monitor his own emotional ups and downs, without being swept away by them.

      The counselors are always asking about our stress level, our anger, so you become more aware and have a better idea what to do with it, he said.

      Almost 54 percent of Oregons $94 million budget for addiction treatment services now goes to programs that deploy evidence-based techniques, according to a state report completed last month. The estimated rate before the mandate was 25 to 30 percent.

      The state has not yet analyzed the impact of this change on clients. Before the mandate, most programs had some evidence-based practices, and since then there has been a lot more interest and awareness of them, said Traci Rieckmann, a public health researcher at Oregon Health and Science University, who is following the policy implementation with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

      Culture Clash

      Yet interest and awareness may not translate into good practice, and Dr. Rieckmann says it is not at all clear how many rehabilitation programs claiming to use evidence-based techniques actually do so faithfully. About 400 programs receive state money, and most of them are small, rural outfits that are already stretched to provide counseling, to say nothing of paying for extensive training. Youre talking about therapies, like cognitive behavior therapy, that take time to learn, said John Gardin, the behavioral health and research director at Adapt in Roseburg, who travels the country to teach the skills.

      Most places dont have a person like me to do that training, so theyre getting two to three days of training, if that; and thats just not enough time to get it.

      In studies looking at hundreds of programs nationwide, researchers have found a similar gap between what programs may want to do and what theyre able to do.

      For instance, most programs dont have an M.D. on staff, said Aaron Johnson, a sociologist at the University of Georgia who has led many of the studies. Without that, of course, you cant prescribe any medications.

      Tim Hartnett, the executive director of a Portland treatment program called CODA Inc., which does its own research on patient outcomes, said that the mandate had raised the level of conversation statewide, but that true reform would mean an integrated system that tracks clients as they move from residential to outpatient treatment, and that defines clear targets for what a person should expect from each kind of program.

      Our goal at CODA is to create a system of care that uses evidence-based practices at just the right dose and just the right time, Mr. Hartnett said. As with many chronic diseases, figuring out dosage and timing are critical.

      For some addicts, a standard program may not help at all, according to Anne Fletcher, who for her book Sober For Good interviewed 222 men and women who had been clean for at least five years.

      A lot of these people overcame an alcohol problem on their own, or with the help of an individual therapist, Ms. Fletcher said.

      To complicate matters in Oregon, the state mandate has stirred a kind of culture clash between those who want reform academic researchers, state officials and veteran counselors working in the trenches, many of whom have beaten addictions of their own and do not appreciate outsiders telling them how to do their jobs. Im a counselor, and Id be defensive, too: What do you mean, all this stuff Ive been doing my entire life is wrong? said Brian Serna, director of outpatient services at Adapt, who has traveled the state to monitor the use of scientific practices.

      So the challenge is to build a bridge between what the science says is effective and what people are already doing. One way to do that, some experts now believe, is to combine evidence-based practice with practice-based evidence the results that programs and counselors themselves can document, based on their own work.

      In 2001 the Delaware Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health began giving treatment programs incentives, or bonuses, if they met certain benchmarks.

      The clinics could earn a bonus of up to 5 percent, for instance, if they kept a high percentage of addicts coming in at least weekly and ensured that those clients met their own goals, as measured both by clean urine tests and how well they functioned in everyday life, in school, at work, at home.

      By 2006, the states rehabilitation programs were operating at 95 percent capacity, up from 50 percent in 2001; and 70 percent of patients were attending regular treatment sessions, up from 53 percent, according to an analysis of the policy published last summer in the journal Health Policy.

      We basically gave them a list of evidence-based practices and told them to pick the ones they wanted to use, said Jack Kemp, former director of substance abuse services for Delaware, in an interview. It was up to them to decide what to use.

      For those who are trying not to use, it doesnt much matter how rehab services are improved only that it happens in time. Honestly, you just dont care how or why something works for you, said Ms. Hatton, the 25-year-old from Myrtle Creek, Ore. Just that it does.

      The Evidence Gap

      December 11, 2008

      Texas not adequately monitoring SAFP program

      The Austin Chronicle says criticisms of the state's Substance Abuse Felony Punishment (SAFP) program are falling on deaf legislative ears, airing complaints that female SAFP inmates are routinely called misogynist names and allegedly subject to tortuous treatment methods, citing a Nov. 13 Senate hearing that took limited testimony on the topic.

      Earlier this year, following the initial reports of inmate charges, Whitmire's committee announced that this interim hearing would focus on SAFPF procedures.

      But by August, specific mention of SAFPF had dropped off the hearing agenda. Asked why, a committee aide said: "There's not enough evidence. ... We're not going to hold hearings based on your article" or based on the growing pile of inmate testimonials, apparently.

      At last month's Senate hearings to review, among other things, the state's privately run prisons and related programs, Whitmire was caught off guard by the testimony of Kerry Wolf, former inmate of the Hackberry "special needs" SAFPF unit in Gatesville. "Obviously, you've come to support SAFPF," the senator began. "Did it work?" Wolf answered, "I was appalled by the human rights abuses and torture that went on in the name of treatment." She'd sat through tighthouse herself. "I saw inmates who were already mentally fragile losing their minds, running around, tearing out their hair, falling out of chairs onto the floor, having seizures, fainting, or hallucinating, " Wolf said. As for "peer-driven" therapy, she told the committee, it was "Lord of the Flies run amok." But Wolf was the lone SAFPF critic that day. A dismissive Whitmire implied that she'd been out of SAFPF too long for her testimony to matter, sighing in relief, "Ohhhhh ... there's been a lot of changes since then" (Wolf was in SAFPF from 2001 to 2002).

      Whitmire quickly lost interest, and during most of her testimony, he fidgeted and whispered to an aide. Michael Giniger took the mic and promptly discredited Wolf. "I am vice president of Gateway Foundation, the organization that this woman claims tortures people in our SAFPF facilities, which we don't. I ... tell you as I told you before, the SAFPF programs that are offered here in Texas ... are by far the best offered in the country." He pointed to 2003 "outcome studies," conducted by the Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council, which showed "astonishingly good outcomes." Unsurprisingly, Whitmire didn't point out that those studies also covered the years when Wolf was at SAFPF. Wolf left the hearings in tears. "I can't stand to listen to this," she said.

      I have no way of knowing what's going on inside SAFP treatment programs, but I can say with certainty there's a significant problem if there have been no outcome studies to measure the program's effectiveness since 2003. Why in heaven's name not?

      I realize Tony Fabelo's now-defunct Criminal Justice Policy Council did the last study and that agency no longer exists. But it's pretty much nuts to me that nobody at TDCJ or the Lege insisted that ball get picked up - how can we not be analyzing Texas' main in-prison treatment program to see if it works or if it needs improvement?

      Texas has expanded its treatment capacity significantly since 2003, largely on the premise that evidence based treatment practices will reduce recidivism. I tend to agree with that premise, but it's just a hypothesis until tested in the real world, and we can't measure and test whether the program works or not if no one is comprehensively examining SAFP outcomes - the same can be said for the new treatment programs installed in 2007.

      I hope Sen. Whitmire is right that complaints of abuse are dated or overstated, but the exchange at the November hearing revealed a shortcoming in the state's oversight of treatment programs that needs to be addressed in a more systematic, ongoing way.


      Anonymous said...
      I have commented previously on the Substance Abuse treatment initiative approved when Governor Ann Richards was in Gov Perry's position.
      The SAFP and IPTC programs were curtailed (and in some cases destroyed) by lack of funding, lack of support,Austin- based administrative misconduct, and political position changes.
      I worked with (not for) the Gateway Company to initiate the first "Dual Diagnosis" treatment program. The Gateway personnel providing treatment, and the program was outstanding!
      I visited the Kyle Unit, south of Austin, where some of the inmates had been transfered from my unit (TDC/TDCJ)and were undergoing the program. This was during the first year of the initiative. I separated myself from the main visitors group and talked with some of the offenders I knew concerning what they thought about the program. Each of them told me that for the first time they thought they had the "tools to make it in the"free world". These were all repeat offenders.
      Most of the programs provided for the incarcerated have limited resources and are there because "They are required". The "Therapeutic Community" model worked! We were keeping stats on the "graduates" pertaining to reincarceration. We had a 60 percent success rate (Those that did not return to prison). The stats were short term, not sufficient for any emperical study, however the program was the best I have ever been knowledgeable of in my 40 plus years in the criminal justice/mental health fields.
      Retired 2004

      Cat said...
      I've known a number of people who went through the SAFP program. Upon release, they all said/advised the same, "if you have a choice between SAFP and jail/prison time - choose jail." The stories recounted about methods and practices used, especially in the women's unit, were pretty horrific and would be considered psychological torture by anyone.

      JTP said... Grits,
      Is it appropriate that the Senator is affiliated with Gateway Foundation or is that a potential conflict of interest? Please explain.

      Anonymous said...
      The comments by CAT about horrific methods and practices being in reality psychological torture sounds like the Bush administration initially swearing that torture wasn't used at Guantanamo. Called torture "treatment" doesn't make it such. The thread could be expanded beyond the SAFP and IPTC programs quite easily. I am thinking about the Grits thread called "Pew urges community supervision strategies to improve public safety". It could be blamed on lack of oversight of field agents, but that wouldn't began to get at the root of the problem.

      Anonymous said...
      I am the person who testified before the senator in the article you posted, Grits. There are literally PILES of pages of testimony from women in these programs who were abused and mistreated, called vicious names by "counselors" , subjected to tactics developed by Synanon in the 1960's before it was discredited, etc. I did what I felt I had to do by speaking out about what I saw (my full story can be seen in the online version of the Chronicle, under "Letters from women at SAFP", a link under the main article.)though I fully expected to be called a liar by SAFP personnel and was not disappointed. There were many women who begged me to speak out as I was leaving, but I was too fearful. Having finally done so, I can begin to put the experience behind me.

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast;
      Labels: SAFP, Senate Criminal Justice, Subtance Abuse, TDCJ


      Addiction Doesnt Discriminate? Wrong

      Published: September 1, 2008

      Weve heard it before. Drug abuse is an equal opportunity destroyer. Drug addiction is a bipartisan illness. Addiction does not discriminate; it doesnt care if you are rich or poor, famous or unknown, a man or woman, or even a child.

      The phrase addiction doesnt care is not meant to remind us that addiction casts a long shadow everyone knows that. Rather, it is supposed to suggest that any individual, no matter who, is vulnerable to the ravages of drugs and alcohol.

      The same rhetoric has been applied to other problems, including child abuse, domestic violence, alcoholism even suicide. Dont stigmatize the afflicted, it cautions; you could be next. Be kind, dont judge.

      The democratization of addiction may be an appealing message, but it does not reflect reality. Teenagers with drug problems are not like those who never develop them. Adults whose problems persist for decades manifest different traits from those who get clean.

      So while anyone can theoretically become an addict, it is more likely the fate of some, among them women sexually abused as children; truant and aggressive young men; children of addicts; people with diagnosed depression and bipolar illness; and groups including American Indians and poor people.

      Attitudes, values and behaviors play a potent role as well.

      Imagine two people trying cocaine, just to see what it is like. Both are 32-year-old men with jobs and families. One snorts a line, loves it and asks for more. The other also loves it but pushes it away, leaves the party and never touches it again. Different values? Different tolerance for risk? Many factors may distinguish the two cocaine lovers, but only one is at risk for a problem.

      Asking for more drug is no guarantee of being seduced into routine use. But what if it happens? Jacob Sullum, a senior editor at Reason magazine, has interviewed many users who became aware that they were sliding down the path to addiction.

      It undermined their sense of themselves as individuals in control of their own destinies, Mr. Sullum wrote in his 2003 book, Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use. And so they stopped.

      I only read about these people. Patients who come to our methadone clinic are there, obviously, because theyre using. The typical patient is someone who has been off heroin for a while (maybe because life was good for while, maybe because there was no access to drugs, maybe because the boss did urine testing) and then resumed.

      But the road to resumption was not unmarked. There were signs and exit ramps all along the way. Instead of heeding them, our patients made small, deliberate choices many times a day to be with other users, to cop drugs for friends, to allow themselves to become bored and soon there was no turning back.

      Addiction does indeed discriminate. It selects for people who are bad at delaying gratification and gauging consequences, who are impulsive, who think they have little to lose, have few competing interests, or are willing to lie to a spouse.

      Though the National Institute on Drug Abuse describes addiction as a chronic and relapsing disease, my patients, seeking help, are actually the exception. Addiction is not an equal opportunity destroyer even among addicts because, thankfully, most eventually extricate themselves from the worst of it.

      Gene Heyman, a lecturer and research psychologist at Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital, said in an interview that between 60 and 80 percent of people who meet criteria for addiction in their teens and 20s are no longer heavy, problem users by their 30s. His analysis of large national surveys revealed that those who kept using were almost twice as likely to have a concurrent psychiatric illness.

      None of this is to deny that brain physiology plays a meaningful role in becoming and staying addicted, but that is not the whole story.

      The culture of drink endures because it offers so many rewards: confidence for the shy, clarity for the uncertain, solace to the wounded and lonely, wrote Pete Hamill in his memoir, A Drinking Life. Heroin and speed helped the screenwriter Jerry Stahl, author of Permanent Midnight, attain the the soothing hiss of oblivion.

      If addiction were a random event, there would be no logic to it, no desperate reason to keep going back to the bottle or needle, no reason to avoid treatment.

      The idea that addiction doesnt discriminate may be a useful story line for the public if we are all under threat then we all should urge our politicians to support more research and treatment for addiction.

      There are good reasons to campaign for those things, but not on the basis of a comforting fiction.

      Sally Satel is a psychiatrist and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

      A version of this article appeared in print on September 2, 2008, on page F6 of the New York edition.


      August 03, 2008

      Opponents of Amarillo halfway house misunderstand their own safety interests

      As Texas lurches toward reinvigorating its carceral drug treatment programs after draconian budget cuts eliminated most of them in 2003, gaps in services and NIMBY opposition to transitional treatment centers threaten to stymie some of the legislatively mandated programs, particularly the drug treatment program SAFP (pronounced Safe-P), which stands for Substance Abuse Felony Punishment.

      Part of the SAFP program requires a three-month stint in a halfway house before final release, but TDCJ has been unable to find contractors willing to provide that service.

      Even when someone is willing to establish and run a new halfway house, NIMBYism frequently crops up to threaten the project. In Amarillo, reports the Globe News' John Kanelis, halfway house up for a vote at a city commission meeting on August 11:

      has drawn opposing fire from neighbors, which is the least-surprising - and most distressing - aspect of this debate.

      Few people doubt the need to provide a transition for convicts back into civilized society - just don't put 'em anywhere near me!

      The Panhandle Truth Squad this spring editorialized against the NIMBYs from their perch as Panhandle populists, calling the movement to oppose the facility evidence Amarillo is a "city without pity."

      But IMO what's needed is not "pity" but informed, rational self interest. Amarilloans who oppose the halfway house simply misunderstand where their real public safety interests lie.

      What do they think happens if TDCJ can't build any halfway houses, anywhere? Will those prisoners simply "go somewhere else"? Hell no. They'll just be released directly on parole with LESS supervision than they'd see in a halfway house!

      In that context, opposition to such a facility can only be described as mind bogglingly foolish, stemming from a complete failure to understand their real public safety interests.

      By opposing this facility, they're really making a de facto argument, if never an explicit one, for releasing drug offenders on regular parole without initial close supervision at all.

      So would Amarillo be safer if SAFP released offenders directly without such program? I've seen no data, but Kanelis quoted a local probationer who'd been through a similar facility in Odessa describing his experience and residents' interaction, or lack thereof, with their neighbors:

      Brian is adamant about many points concerning the halfway house, especially the control it exercised over its residents.

      He was released from the Odessa residence on Sept. 11, 2006 and has lived in Amarillo ever since. Brian is still on probation, but once he completes his sentence successfully, his felony conviction will be removed from his record.

      He credits the treatment he received in Odessa, along with SAFPF, for saving his life.

      The concerns of residents who oppose the treatment center in Amarillo are misguided, Brian said.

      "You don't leave the house except to go to work," he said. Brian worked nights loading trucks for a chain of stores. "I left at 9 each night for work and would return in the morning," he said. He had to attend three Alcoholics Anonymous meetings each week; moreover, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice bused him to the meetings.

      "We had lights out at 10 each night," he said, "and we couldn't play loud music."

      His point simply is this: The neighbors of the proposed AWARE residence in south Amarillo "won't ever see the people" who live in the house.

      Oh, what about the perceived threat to neighbors by residents who fall of the drugs-and-booze wagon?

      Brian stifled a chuckle, and then said, "The people who mess up aren't going to stick around. They're going to try to go home - wherever that may be. They would be long gone."

      Brian would get weekend passes while living in Odessa. He would come home to spend time with his parents.

      And when he returned to Odessa? He had to provide a urine sample to be tested for drugs. "If I came up dirty, then my probation would be revoked," he said. Happily, he stayed clean then and is staying clean now.

      Would opponents of this facility prefer if Brian had come straight home to Amarillo without this more intensive level of supervision when he first left prison? If he went immediately back to work for his father's Amarillo business (where he is today and in any event would be inevitably), would the city's residents be more or less confident he was prepared to responsibly exercise his new freedom?

      I'm guessing if you asked them in the abstract, everyone opposing this facility would say they want offenders closely supervised upon release, they just don't want them in their neighborhood.

      The tragically ridiculous and ignorant part of that stance is that the folks in such facilities were their neighbors before they were drug offenders - when they get out, back to your neighborhood is where they're headed, anyway - just with less supervision.

      If I were Jewish, this would be a good moment for use of the word, "Oy!" - it expresses a sentiment that doesn't quite have an English equivalent. Sometimes the stupidity is so visceral, it hurts!

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast
      Labels: drug policy, Halfway houses, Private prisons, Probation, Re-Entry, Recidivism Programs, TDCJ

      July 08, 2008

      Shortage of aftercare beds threatens to continue TDCJ's drug treatment bottlenecks

      Although the Texas Legislature (led by Sen. John Whitmire and Rep. Jerry Madden) spearheaded a massive expansion of treatment options and incarceration alternatives last year for prisoners and parolees, a shortage of Transitional Treatment Center (TTC) beds threatens to undermine Texas' expanded programs aimed at mitigating drug addiction.

      While the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has made progress, the majority of new treatment beds authorized by the Legislature have yet to come online according to information provided to Grits by Jason Clark, a TDCJ spokesperson. Here's the status of the various treatment beds authorized and funded last year (adapted from an email):

      Intermediate Sanctions Facilities (ISF) -1400 beds allotted be legislature, 250 are under contract.

      The remaining 1150 are out on a RFP.

      The responses are due back July 14th for those beds that are available right now (fast track).

      The RFP for those beds that have to be constructed (slow track) are due back November 14th.

      Substance Abuse Felony Punishment (SAFP) -1500 allotted
      588 "fast track" beds are already under contract. The remaining 912 are out on RFP due back November 14th.

      DWI-500 allotted
      These beds are online (see the Longview News Journal coverage of the new facility)

      In-Prison Therapeutic Community (IPTC) treatment slots-1000 allotted
      These beds are online

      Transitional Treatment Center (TTC) -1250 allotted
      We have gone through with the first round of RFP and are now on the second round. The agency is working with existing vendors to vendors, CSCD's, and Department of State Health Services to increase available capacity.

      So 2,338 of the beds are already online out of 5,650 total, or 41%.

      I was a little surprised at these numbers since TDCJ chief Brad Livingston told the Legislature this spring that most of the beds were already contracted.

      Notably, the TTC beds are the only ones now on their second RFP.

      Though Clark wouldn't confirm it, I'm told by sources in local probation departments that's because no one submitted a proposal in response to the request. (We won't know until November whether that will be the case with other categories of beds not yet built.) All the treatment beds proposed (except possibly for TTC) will be operated by private contractors.

      There's a fear among some local probation departments that by "working with ... CSCDs," the state means they hope to dump aftercare duties on county probation departments instead of contracting with vendors or providing the services themselves. Right now such services fall under the auspices of the TDCJ's parole division.

      What's more, the TTC bed shortfall potentially thwarts larger treatment and re-entry goals because they're part of a three phase protocol designed for drug-addicted offenders - in fact, the same ones occupying the SAFP and IPTC beds, both of whom enter TTC facilities when their initial program is complete. From TDCJ's website:

      The program consists of Phase I (Orientation) , a comprehensive assessment and orientation of the Therapeutic Community; Phase II (Main Treatment), which includes education, skills training, offender lifestyle confrontation, family dynamics, and peer support groups; and Phase III (Re-Entry), the education of offenders in the development of social skills and the recognition of the triggers of relapse.

      Upon completion of the SAFPF program, offenders are placed in a community residential facility/Transition al Treatment Center for three months, followed by outpatient treatment for up to twelve additional months.

      The aftercare phase administers a diverse range of therapeutic, residential, outpatient, and resource programs. The Special Needs program provides educational components that address Axis I mental disorders as well as personality disorders, medication regimentation, and the interaction of disorders with substances of abuse.

      TDCJ's website describes how the system is supposed to work in an ideal world:

      Transitional Treatment Center (TTC) - is targeted for those releasees who have participated in the In-Prison Therapeutic Community (IPTC) or Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility (SAFP) programs. The TTC is the aftercare component of the treatment program for releasees from the IPTC and SAFP facilities, and lasts for three months.

      An additional twelve months of outpatient care follows.

      Specially trained parole officers supervise offenders.

      These treatment beds as a package were the centerpiece of prison diversion legislation enacted in 2007 aimed at reducing or ending waiting lists for treatment programs required of certain offenders before release. But the various facilities were designed to be interdependent: If Texas expands SAFP and IPTC capacity but fails to increase the number of TTC beds, it invites bottlenecks and release delays that could continue to fill up scarce prison beds, disrupt rehabilitation and stymie re-entry efforts.

      TDCJ deserves credit for getting 40% of the beds rolled out within a year after they were authorized, but those beds basically represent all the existing capacity they could easily sop up. Most additional beds will require new construction - or in the case of TTC beds, possibly a new delivery model - meaning it could easily be another couple of years before the treatment package authorized by the Texas Legislature in 2007 becomes fully available.

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast
      Labels: drug policy, Parole, Private prisons, Probation, Re-Entry, Recidivism programs, TDCJ

      Please Note: This Article comes from Utah but it is something that Texas Legislature may consider if the citizens direct their attention to it.

      Getting clean in the criminal justice system

      15 June 2008
      Jeremy Duda - DAILY HERALD

      Programs offer chance to kick their addictions

      Any judge will tell you that the overwhelming majority of the criminal cases they see are in some way linked to drug or alcohol abuse.

      Judge Lynn Davis, of Provo's 4th District Court, estimates that 80-90 percent of his cases are drug- or alcohol-related. Property crimes, theft, even sexual assaults, he said, can mostly be traced back to substance abuse. Nearly all of the car and home burglary cases Davis sees have drugs or alcohol as their root cause.

      Oftentimes addicts steal to support their addictions to drugs such as methamphetamine and Oxycontin. And many of the violent crimes Davis sees can be chalked up to drug or alcohol use as well.

      When it comes time for sentencing, the defendants' addictions are taken into account.

      "Drug and alcohol therapy are just an absolute prerequisite factor component in sentencing. If you sentence without the benefit of drug and alcohol therapy, you simply will see that person again. It becomes a revolving door," Davis said.

      Substance abuse treatment may be ordered for some defendants as a part of their probation. Others may be eligible for programs such as drug court, which allows offenders to have their crimes expunged from their records once they complete the program. For the defendants who find themselves behind bars, there are even programs at the Utah State Prison.

      But just as most people in the criminal justice system agree that drugs are the primary driving force behind crime, there is also a consensus that there aren't enough treatment options available for those who need it, or enough funding for the programs that are out there.

      The Community

      "I apologize to the community for these behaviors, and I will change that."

      Each Thursday at the Utah State Prison, that sentence is uttered dozens of times. For residents of the Con-Quest program, a residential drug treatment program, it is an acknowledgment that they broke the rules, and a vow to their peers that the offending behavior will be corrected.

      Residents are held accountable by their peers for infractions such as holding up the chow line, not making their beds properly or leaving their section without identification. Inside Con-Quest, civics are taken seriously.

      Though Con-Quest and Excell, its women's counterpart, are in-patient substance abuse programs within the prison's barbed wire fences, they are distinctly separate from the rest of the facility. To be eligible for the program, inmates must be designated by the prison as addicts.

      Residents of Con-Quest -- they are not referred to as inmates -- generally enter the program as a last step before they are paroled.

      The program combines counseling to address the residents' substance abuse issues with lessons intended to help change negative behaviors that may have contributed to their problems.

      "How you deal with relationships here can go home with you," said Donna Kendall, the clinical therapist supervisor for the Con-Quest program.

      Con-Quest has about 400 residents, while Excell has almost 150. On Thursdays, the residents spend all day in their sections doing group activities. Part of the day is spent doing relays, encounters and haircuts, which are activities designed to address bad behavior or broken rules while providing positive feedback. The Thursday groups also involve community-building exercises such as conducting group cheers and acting out skits.

      The relays, encounters and haircuts are run by the residents themselves, which is the overarching theme of Con-Quest and Excell.

      "The object ... is to allow the inmates to be in charge of the community," Kendall said.

      Excell, Con-Quest's counterpart for female inmates, has a different focus. Greg Hendrix, the Excell supervisor, said many of the women are dealing with physical or sexual abuse issues that led many of them to begin abusing drugs or alcohol in the first place.

      So much of their therapy is designed to help address trauma or self-worth issues, along with creating the relapse prevention and pre-release plans the men work on. There is also a lot of focus on parenting and healthy relationships, as well as classes through Salt Lake Community College to provide marketable skills for the residents once they are released.

      Prison officials cite the programs as success stories based on the number of graduates who recidivate, or relapse back into crime and end up back in the court system.

      Con-Quest graduates have an average recidivism rate of 20 percent, according to Utah Department of Corrections spokeswoman Angie Welling. Inmates who don't go through the program have a recidivism rate of 75-85 percent.

      For Excell, the recidivism rate is about 22 percent. HOPE, a men's program at the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison that is similar to Con-Quest, has a recidivism rate of about 33 percent.

      The residents appear enthusiastic about the program. Some have been through other rehabilitation programs before, but nothing quite like Con-Quest.

      "They've given me a lot of positive insight ... to not only become a better person, but become a better father and a better husband," said Nick Lovato, 32. Lovato, who is serving time for forgery and drug possession, said he started living on the streets when he was 11 years old.

      The program is conducive to change, said 37-year-old resident Richard Eaton. If you're there long enough it not only makes you want to change, but it gives you a plan for doing so.

      "I've always had an idea of who I wanted to be, but now I have it on paper. I have a map," said Eaton, who was convicted of aggravated assault in 2006.

      Many residents go through a gradual shift in their outlook as they go through the program. As unit coordinators, Bryce Collings, John Bott and Charles Cushing have been from one extreme to the other, and use that experience to help others bridge the gap.

      Unit coordinators are Con-Quest residents who help oversee the entire program. The therapists who are over each section give directions to the unit coordinators, who carry them out while making sure the dorms run consistently and work closely with programming and security officials to maintain stability.

      "We're kind of like the peer leaders for the whole program," said Collings, 33. Collings, who lived in Orem before going to prison, has been incarcerated for nearly five years on an automobile homicide conviction.

      New residents often come in with a "challenge authority" mentality, said Bott, a 33-year-old Payson native who is serving time for robbery, theft and attempted forgery. But after a while, Bott said, you see that attitude start to change. The community aspect goes a long way in assisting that process.

      "They try to leave it up to us, you know, to start learning to pull each other up, hold each other accountable and do it through a therapeutic community other than through security. It's really cool for us to have that opportunity, " Bott said.

      On the other side of the bars

      The Con-Quest and Excell programs seem successful, but judges want to help people kick the drug habits that fuel their criminal behavior before they wind up in prison, or even find themselves back in the judges' courtrooms.

      Some offenders can go through the state's drug court program, which includes intensive therapy sessions and meetings. To complete the program, participants must have full-time jobs, a high school diploma or GED and must have been drug-free for at least six months. The program lasts at least one year, and goes for as long as it takes each participant to graduate.

      Judge James Taylor, who oversees the Utah County 4th District Felony Drug Court, said the relapse and recidivism rates for the program can be difficult to track because participants' records are expunged once they graduate, but the program is often cited as a success story because of its low recidivism rate.

      "I think recidivism in general treatment is something like 80 percent, and ... it's 10 percent in our program," he said. "That's a pretty good rate."

      Richard Nance, the director of the Utah County Division of Substance Abuse, collaborates with the criminal justice system to provide treatment for people who go through the court's system for drug- related crimes.

      Nance said the average adult client who finds treatment through the division of substance abuse has had eight or more arrests, mostly within the 12-18 months prior to treatment.

      After treatment, they average about one arrest per year. Those numbers go back as far as 1993.

      Nance said they see about 2,000 clients a year.

      For people who end up in the Utah County Jail, there is the OUT program, which stands for On-Unit Treatment. It is open to anyone who is serving more than 30 days in the jail.

      Nance described OUT as a 30-day stabilization program to give offenders a jump start on getting treatment when they leave the jail.

      Officials at Con-Quest and Excell describe their programs as having a similar purpose.

      Nance said re-arrest rates for jail inmates who don't take part in OUT are about 33 percent higher than those who complete the program.

      The promise Of DORA

      The problem most of these programs encounter on a regular basis is a lack of funding. Many of the programs, such as drug court and Con- Quest, are successful, but there's never enough money to keep up with demand, and the result is usually long waiting lists.

      But recent legislation may help remedy that funding shortfall. In 2006 the state Legislature passed the Drug Offender Reform Act, or DORA. Sponsored by Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, DORA will celebrate its one-year anniversary as a full-time program in July.

      It was initially created as a three-year pilot program, but the state decided to implement it as a full-time, statewide program after the second year.

      DORA's main component is treatment programs that serve as an alternative to prison, Buttars said. Offenders can stay home, live with their families and keep their jobs, all while receiving treatment for substance abuse.

      The level of treatment, as well as the length, depends on the needs of the offender.

      "The whole principles were based on 'treatment works,' and we've proven that over the years with our drug courts. It just takes it to a whole new level," Buttars said. "Treatment works, but just locking a person up doesn't."

      Utah has about 6,600 incarcerated people, Buttars said, and in its first year DORA has kept about 600 more from ending up behind bars.

      Buttars thinks there are probably 2,500 people in the corrections system at any given time that would fit DORA.

      He pointed out that it costs the state $29,000 a year to keep someone in prison, while it costs $4,200 a year to treat someone through DORA. The state considered building a new 500-bed prison, Buttars said, which had a price tag of about $80 million last year.

      DORA had $8 million in funding during its first year, and in the 2009 fiscal year it will have $9 million. Buttars said he expects the program to cost about $15 million a year when it is running at full capacity, but given the costs of incarcerating people and building new prisons, Buttars sees the cost as well worth it.

      "You'll be saving ... a couple hundred million dollars a year," he said.

      Mary Lou Emerson, the director of the Utah Substance Abuse and Anti- Violence Coordinating Council, hopes to see DORA's funding peak at about $17 million a year. There is a lot of hope that DORA funding can provide more resources for other cash-starved programs, but the money isn't there right now.


      Across the board, officials say there is a need for more funding and resources for treatment programs. Most have more demand than s upply, and the result is countless people who are waiting for a chance to get clean.

      If the number of available spots in drug court were doubled today, Taylor said he could fill them immediately. Similarly, Con-Quest has a waiting list of hundreds. Nance estimates that the Utah County Division of Substance Abuse is able to provide treatment for only about 10 percent of the county's residents who need it.

      "Nationwide there isn't enough treatment for substance abusers, and that holds true for Utah County too," he said. "Every public substance abuse program is going to have a wait list."

      Because the waiting lists have become so long over time, Emerson feels the state may be fighting such battles for a long time. But with programs like DORA in effect, she thinks Utah is moving in the right direction.

      "The programs are very successful," she said. "If we could just really have enough resources to treat that population in need, I think we could have a huge impact. But we're doing the best we can in the meantime."

      Jeremy Duda can be reached at
      344-2561 or

      Programs offer chance to kick their addictions

      Op-Ed Columnist

      Why Is Mom in Rehab?

      Published: June 14, 2008

      The actress Tatum O’Neal was arrested recently on charges of buying crack cocaine from a man on the street near her New York City home. She is a 44-year-old mother of three. She has spent years in and out of drug abuse treatment (which she chronicled in her 2004 memoir), and according to her publicist she will continue to “attend meetings” for drug and alcohol abuse.

      Ms. O’Neal illustrates a disturbing trend among those being admitted to substance abuse treatment services: a growing percentage of older women are being treated for harder drugs.

      Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration revealed that the total number of admissions to treatment services from 1996 to 2005 (the last year for which detailed data are available) stayed about the same among people under 40, but jumped 52 percent among those 40 and older. Of the 40 and older group, the rise in admissions among men was 44 percent. Among women, it was 82 percent.

      (During the same span, the population in the United States age 40 and older grew by only 19 percent.)

      Of these women, admissions for nonsmoked cocaine have doubled; admissions for crack cocaine have tripled; admissions for opiates other than heroin have nearly quadrupled; and admissions for methamphetamines have increased sevenfold.

      These trends could grow stronger. A 2006 report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse focused on drug use among baby boomers, all of whom were 41 to 59 years old in 2005. It concluded that “the large size of this cohort, coupled with greater lifetime rates of drug use than previous generations, might result in unprecedented high numbers of older drug users in the next 15 to 20 years.”

      There was a time when we thought that the biggest substance abuse threat to older women was alcoholism and abuse of prescription drugs.

      Ten years ago this month, Betty Ford and the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University issued a report called “Under the Rug: Substance Abuse and the Mature Woman.” At the time, Joseph Califano, president of the center said: “Abuse and addiction to alcohol and psychoactive drugs and tobacco by women 60 and older is an inexcusable area of neglect.”

      But since boomers can’t seem to shake their street-drug demons, the focus needs to shift.

      Why Is Mom in Rehab?

      News: May 23, 2008

      Rehabilitation or Torture?

      Inmates charge privatized state 'rehab' program subjects women to prolonged physical stress and degradation

      By Patricia J. Ruland

      Men would riot here. � SAFPF inmate

      What's worse than prison?

      According to some former and current inmates, the state's Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facilities. Funded by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and staffed by Texas Department of Corrections officers and personnel employed by nonprofit operator Gateway Foundation of Chicago, the SAFPFs (referred to colloquially as "Safe- Ps") in theory provide rehabilitation to nonviolent offenders incarcerated for felony drug and alcohol convictions. Persons charged with violating the terms of their probation or parole can be sent to SAFPFs for treatment of their drug or alcohol addictions within the TDCJ system, as a means of avoiding harsher punishment. On the Gateway website, the foundation trumpets the low recidivism rates of inmates who complete its corrections-based program and summarizes its services: "Gateway operates nearly 25 corrections-based programs and provides treatment to over 15,000 men, women, adolescents and dually diagnosed substance abusers every year. Gateway treatment sites utilize Therapeutic Community paradigms, and are supplemented by Cognitive Self-Change methods." But judging from more than a dozen narratives written by female SAFPF inmates and recently provided to Austin attorney Derek Howard, such facilities � which in Texas currently house 900 female inmates � in reality may be employing unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment. Some women incarcerated and assigned to SAFPF programs say they have been routinely deprived, humiliated, and degraded. Among other allegations, the women have charged they must often sit silently, rigidly, face-forward, in plastic chairs for long hours or days, occasionally through periods of weeks on end, sometimes as an individual punishment, at other times in collective punishment they fear and loathe as "the dreaded tighthouse."

      To Howard's knowledge, no official Gateway/TDCJ therapeutic or disciplinary protocol recommends or allows a treatment so extreme as a "tighthouse." To the contrary, a Gateway official described tighthouse as a limited and carefully monitored therapeutic practice, but the inmates' descriptions of tighthouse (or "the chairs"), as a form of arbitrary and often harsh punishment, are starkly different from the official description. Women write, "It just is," and is "a big secret."

      Considering the women's accounts, Howard is concerned the state of Texas may be funding, wittingly or unwittingly, what amounts to torture. "Torture is defined as 'the infliction of intense pain.'

      Forcing someone to sit in a hard chair for 16 hours a day constitutes torture, by anyone's standards," Howard argues. "We are now considering suing Gateway for violating the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment."

      The inmate complaints have prompted an ongoing investigation by the state Office of Inspector General, whose investigators have been interviewing inmates on-site since January in the Halbert Unit in Burnet County and perhaps at other sites. According to Inspector General John Moriarty, the agency plans to conclude its inquiry soon; in late April he provided his "courtesy preliminary conclusion" to the Chronicle: that not one of the inmate allegations of abuse has been confirmed. (TDCJ officials, citing the open inspector general investigation, have declined to answer questions about SAFPFs.) Moriarty added that investigators found such "a preponderance of evidence" refuting the allegations that polygraphs (presumably of inmates only) were deemed unnecessary. Howard, interpreting Moriarty's suggestion as tantamount to an accusation of inmate collusion, countered, "It's ridiculously unlikely that the women got together and fabricated the allegations." Howard promised that whatever the inspector general's response, his own investigation would proceed.

      'Fairness and Vindication'

      In January, after witnessing what she considered a particularly abusive "therapeutic" episode, an inmate named Jodi Stodder-Caldwell (who had landed a six-month stint in an SAFPF after a complicated dispute with the parole bureaucracy and is now a resident in a College Station halfway house) decided she could sit silently no more. She persuaded more than a dozen others to join her in sending to Howard their personal accounts of the SAFPF practices. "Nothing bad can come of this," Stodder-Caldwell told her fellow inmates, because she believed relief and justice were finally possible. The inmates wrote mainly of their experiences in the Ellen Halbert Unit in Burnet County but also concerning the Hackberry Unit in Gates ville. Inmates speculated that lawyers and the judges who assign women to the program � presented as an alternative to a conventional prison sentence � may not know what an SAFPF is really like in actual practice. "No one was able to tell me the therapeutic value of the chairs and how it is to help me in my recovery to remain sober," one woman wrote.

      SAFPF staffers "tell us this is what we deserve, and it is all our fault," said Stodder-Caldwell. Wrote another, "Mr. Howard, I write this statement to you in the interest of fairness as well as vindication for those who do not have the resources to defend themselves, while being engulfed in a system hell-bent on sadistic punishment, a system that wears a mask for the public to maintain an image of integrity and altruism, when in reality the very rules and ideals this institution claims to instill in us to function in society are the ones they cannot seem to grasp themselves."

      The Official Response

      Asked for a response to the inmates' charges, Gateway President and CEO Michael Darcy disputed the inmates' accounts of the use of the tighthouse as "false," insisting that it is a carefully limited method designed to aid in the inmates' rehabilitation. Darcy insisted on written questions via e-mail and responded accordingly. "The therapeutic community model adopted by TDCJ has been one of the most effective means of reducing recidivism. A tighthouse [or Tight House] is a regular and integral part of the process of the 'Therapeutic Community' that is called for by the staff when the behaviors and attitudes of the clients need to be refocused on recovery issues."

      Darcy continued: "Clients attend treatment programming for 4 hrs, either in the AM or PM. Gateway Foundation staff provide the educational groups. Each group will last 50 minutes with a 10 minute break.

      "The clients may change rooms depending on the group. Chairs are provided for all clients to write and complete assignments."

      In contrast, inmates directly subjected to tighthouse � as they say it is actually practiced � condemn this and other SAFPF practices as patently counterproductive to recovery. "I feel like a prisoner of war," wrote one woman, and, "This is not rehabilitation � it's torture," wrote another. Stodder-Caldwell, who had spent some time in Texas prisons in the mid-Nineties, before landing in the SAFPF program last year, summed up a common inmate sentiment. "At the toughest women's prison in Texas, I was never forced to endure abuse I have suffered at Halbert."

      Moral Rehabilitation

      Under the psychological principles of "therapeutic communities," SAFPFs in theory try to rehabilitate inmates' "morals" or characters along with their behavior. But inmates claim the punitive underbelly of the project is that under the guise of "therapy," women are often treated like misbehaving children who require severe punishment. For example, inmates say that SAFPF staff regularly direct inmates "to clean out your baby gut" � that is, "grow up" and admit their faults aloud to everyone. Disciplinary invectives from staff, inmates report, are often highly personal and intentionally wounding � most pointedly, targeting the inmates' worries and guilt concerning their families. "We would [hear] that our kids were better off with us gone," one inmate wrote, or that they didn't love their mothers. Staff allegedly brand pregnant inmates as "whores" or tell inmates disdainfully, for example, "I bet your baby has a black father." Inmates argue that Gateway SAFPFs effectively target women who've already suffered abuse throughout their lives, who perhaps have even learned to expect such treatment, leaving them with "no concept of civil rights," Stodder-Caldwell wrote.

      According to the inmates, the questionable practices extend to medical matters, although Gateway CEO Darcy firmly responded that TDCJ, not Gateway, is responsible for the medical treatment of inmates, and TDCJ declined to answer any questions about conditions in SAFPFs. In practice, inmates charge, such division of responsibility is seldom clear, and the lines of authority are often blurred. According to the inmate narratives, staff, like abusive parents, repeatedly scold inmates as "whiny" or order them to "get out" when they seek medical help. For example, after a seizure caused a woman to tumble from her bunk to the concrete and left several knots on her head, she asked to be "laid in" (for rest and treatment), only to be refused by a nurse. Women also report that within the program itself, many medicines are frowned upon or banned � occasionally even antibiotics, so women who contract staph infections must endure open sores. "This is obscene!" one inmate exclaimed. Another inmate said that a handicapped woman had been forced to march on crutches and had contracted a staph infection under her arms.

      Stodder-Caldwell wrote that she suffered hearing loss when denied antibiotics for an ear infection. Inmates say another inmate's chemotherapy, begun before she entered the program, had been halted without reason; other inmates reported that gynecological exams are so rough that bleeding can last for days. Inmates say that rather than be provided real treatment by medical personnel, they'd hear callous staff ask, laughing, whether they'd gotten their "miracle water." Stodder-Caldwell explained: "There is a common joke among the staff. When anyone goes to medical for any reason, they tell them they need to drink more water and dismiss the complaints. The staff jokingly ask when someone comes back from medical if they were given 'miracle water.'"

      Another former inmate, now a resident in a halfway house, says she received an abnormal Pap smear in April 2007 while in TDCJ. She was given antibiotics, but officials took no further medical action during her imprisonment. She entered SAFPF at Halbert in October and reported to staff a continuing discharge, but medical staff declined to schedule additional tests during the several months she was in the program. After leaving SAFPF, she consulted a private doctor and has been diagnosed with a softball-size uterine tumor and is still waiting to find out if she has cancer.

      Another inmate recounted "mind-crushing" therapeutic mind games, designed in theory to break down emotional resistance to treatment but, in practice, effectively pushing inmates to "the snapping point." Inmates say the Gateway program's therapy groups � said to be designed especially for women and which they are required to refer to as their prison "family" � routinely deteriorate into humiliating and unendurable pabulum. Stodder-Caldwell wrote that during her stay in SAFPF, inmates were required to spend several hours a week singing children's songs, like "B-I-N-G-O" or "Old MacDonald Had a Farm." Groups occasionally erupt into pseudo-therapeutic feeding frenzies, inmates charge, due to program rules that women must "tell on" each other or face their own punishments. Heads of inmate-run "governments" (appointed by staff) supervise their subordinate "expediters" and mete out sanctions. What is often "expedited," inmates say, is desperate self-preservation, through "spying and snitching."

      "They drive us to exhaustion, and then pit us against each other," one account states. To attorney Howard, the practice of forced- informing and imposed inmate hierarchies is reminiscent of the Stockholm syndrome found in prisoner-of-war camps, in which prisoners are conditioned to identify with their captors. Women also report being punished for not anticipating others' infractions and reporting them to guards in advance. One former inmate lamented wryly, "Sir, I do not possess the power of precognition."

      Collective Punishment

      The women's most dramatic and insistent complaints concern the individual and collective punishment known as "tighthouse." By their accounts, Gateway's exaggerated time-out-style punishment (or "therapy") has evolved in practice into a marathon form of physical and psychological brutality. One inmate wrote: "I was sitting in chairs for so long, my knees hurt, my back hurt, my head hurt. I was about to lose my mind." Another woman says she experienced "almost unbearable" joint pain from aggravated scoliosis and fibromyalgia, as well as excruciating bowel, kidney, and bladder discomfort.

      Inmates so fear tighthouse that staff routinely use it as a disciplinary threat, taunting, "It is coming." If women see two or more counselors at their door, they fear they are headed for "the chairs." More often, they say, a tighthouse hits without warning. "After work one day ... the guards were yelling and screaming, telling us to hurry. The older and weaker had trouble carrying their things, and if we tried to help, we were threatened," an inmate recalled. "I walked past an older black lady on the ground begging for help." One woman recounted a 2002 tighthouse in Gatesville that involved an entire unit of several hundred women, which she says lasted, in varying degrees of intensity, for 42 days. For several weeks, she wrote, inmates were confined to chairs for as much as 16 hours a day (roughly from 4am to 8pm) in an "extremely hot" gym, with only brief bathroom breaks and minimal meals. In the remaining hours, they were expected to complete all work duties, other program obligations, and attend to any other personal needs.

      According to her written account, during the "tighthouse" hours in the chairs, "people were passing out and breaking down," forbidden behaviors that resulted in additional punishment. Moreover, she wrote, that during these weeks of collective punishment, "There were several suicide attempts, and at one point I thought the inmates were going to riot."

      Several inmate narratives recount another particularly disturbing incident at the Halbert Unit this year, during which a Hispanic inmate paid an additional price after being sucker-punched by another inmate (who was placed in segregation). According to Stodder-Caldwell and other inmates, the assaulted woman (who had not retaliated) was singled out for exemplary retribution for having been in a fight. As the inmates tell it, in advance of a group meeting, SAFPF personnel deliberately fomented a "mob mentality" by threatening all the inmates with "chairs" unless they reported the designated inmate's every negative behavior at the upcoming session. The unsuspecting woman finally entered the room for what Stodder-Caldwell described as a brutal "tribunal." "It was like watching a pack of wolves," Stodder- Caldwell wrote. "She was the sacrificial lamb used to teach us a lesson � to kill or be killed." According to the inmates, such group criticism sessions served both to punish transgressing inmates and enforce group discipline � those who refuse to participate by accusing their neighbors of infractions are themselves subject to punishment.

      Stodder-Caldwell, who speaks some Spanish, says she refused to participate, instead whispering over and over, "I am your friend," all the while feverishly translating the inmates' criticisms from English to Spanish. According to Stodder-Caldwell, after the tribunal, the punished woman was forced to sit at a school desk in a corner, 16 hours a day, for a period of weeks, with no communication and only limited food and bathroom breaks. It was watching the unfortunate woman "doing her best to hold on," day after day, "tears streaming down her face," that finally led Stodder-Caldwell to contact Howard. The woman suffered further punishment, according to Stodder-Caldwell, by having five months of her six-month SAFPF program revoked. Then she was transferred back to county jail, then back to Halbert for yet another stint in SAFPF, where she remains.

      Standard Operating Policy

      The difference between the inmate accounts and Gateway's official description of its program is dramatic. Darcy characterized inmate descriptions of tighthouse as inaccurate and "very bizarre." "The information given to you about a Tighthouse is false," Darcy wrote in his e-mail, explaining that an official program tighthouse lasts four hours, with breaks, according to a written "standard operating policy" approved by TDCJ. Women "may change rooms depending on the group," he wrote, noting "chairs are provided for all clients to write and complete assignments." In Darcy's judgment, the collective therapy practice employed at SAFPF facilities as "tighthouse" serves a worthwhile purpose: "This is a learning experience that stresses all clients of the treatment community have responsibility not only for themselves," he wrote, "but for the community as a whole." (TDCJ officials declined to answer questions about the SAFPF program or any policy concerning it.)

      Concerning inmates' general accusations of abuse, Darcy insisted in a telephone interview that "staff are not allowed to abuse clients," adding that inmates may file complaints with SAFPF officers. When told inmates say that even formal grievances go nowhere, Darcy changed course, stating inmates could complain to Gateway directly, as well as to guards. Categorically defending SAFPF, Darcy also wrote, "I would urge you to visit a program to see the remarkable work that TDCJ is doing to reduce recidivism, saving the taxpayers of Texas a substantial amount of money."

      Asked about inmates' medical complaints, Darcy reiterated his distinction � that Gateway is responsible for inmate rehabilitation, while TDCJ is responsible for inmate health care. The two separate roles better not be "bundled up" in an article, he warned. However, inmates report that for them the line is often blurred between Gateway and TDCJ staff and that disagreements between the two groups of officials about appropriate policy concerning medical care as well as other matters lead to confusion and distress among inmates. "I am always afraid," wrote one inmate. "TDCJ has a strict set of rules that are clearly defined. ... Gateway has a separate set of rules that are neither concrete nor provided. The Gateway rules change from counselor to counselor, and from day to day. The counselors are fond of saying: 'Nothing's constant at SAFPF but change.'"

      As of May 12, TDCJ staff continued to decline comment because of the open investigation. "We don't correspond back and forth about an investigation or an alleged investigation. It's best you talk to [Inspector General] John Moriarty," said TDCJ media representative Jason Clark, who declined to review inmate allegations. Moriarty, on the other hand, seemed unaware of the precise substance of the allegations he is charged with investigating. He said inspectors had turned up no evidence that the women are required to "stand" for long periods of time. When informed the charge was that they had to sit, not stand, he scoffed, "Stand or sit? I don't have the report in front of me." Moriarty also claimed, incorrectly, that the women had alleged they weren't allowed to use the bathroom, raising the question of how much he even knows about the findings and therefore how he was able to make a sound judgment of the validity of the preliminary conclusion of no abuse.

      Upset that the inspector general would reflexively side with Gateway and TDCJ, Stod der-Caldwell was nonetheless resolute, insisting that she and the other inmates are telling the truth. "I'm not surprised at all, because they have so much to cover up," she said. "If the public knew what went on in there, how would [the staff] defend their actions?"

      Awaiting Retaliation

      In the aftermath of the allegations, the stakes for current or former SAFPF inmates remain very high. Inmates say they are careful to walk the line even after they've left SAFPF and are worried that speaking out will lead to retaliation, perhaps including revocation of their parole or probation. Could the fear of retaliation be a possible explanation why women "no longer under the care and control of Gateway," in Moriarty's words, failed to corroborate others' allegations to the inspector general? Moriarty declined comment.

      Now that the inspector general investigation is nearly concluded, there could also be severe consequences for still-incarcerated SAFPF inmates. "If the warden and counselors have no consequences, they will come down on the girls with a vengeance," said Ken Caldwell, Jodi Stodder-Caldwell's husband.

      As to Moriarty's preliminary assertion that no abuse was found to have occurred, Stodder-Caldwell replied: "Oh, please! It happens on a daily basis." She's especially disheartened that her friend who'd been punched in the face is now right back where she was so mistreated, enduring another six-month stint in SAFPF.

      Rehabilitation or Torture?

      Copyright � 2008 Austin Chronicle Corporation.



      Anyone who participated in the SAFP Program
      provided by Gateway Foundation and want to
      file a complaint through "Gateway To Hell" Web Site
      Please email: GATEWAY TO HELL ~ASAP~!
      All Complaints will be kept confidential!

      A Powerful Statement to think about that concerns SAFP Program By- Gateway:

      Dear Friends,
      Both in theory and in practice psychiatric "therapy/treatment" in Prisons is punishment and torture.

      Punishment has long been an important tool of psychiatric "therapy" and social control and for that reason punitive "therapies" find a warm welcome among governments and administrators of punitive institutions such as Prisons.

      As our society slowly turns away from official endorsement of harsh punishment and torture, governments and penal administrators turn increasingly to therapy-as-punishment to inflict controls which, if called punishment and torture would be clearly illegal and immoral human right violations.

      To Freedom,
      Daniel H.

      Researchers work on cocaine vaccine

      January 2, 2008

      HOUSTON � Two Baylor College of Medicine researchers in Houston are working on a cocaine vaccine they hope will become the first-ever medication to treat people hooked on the drug.

      "For people who have a desire to stop using, the vaccine should be very useful," said Dr. Tom Kosten, a psychiatry professor who is being assisted in the research by his wife, Therese, a psychologist and neuroscientist. "At some point, most users will give in to temptation and relapse, but those for whom the vaccine is effective won't get high and will lose interest."

      The vaccine, currently in clinical trials, stimulates the immune system to attack the real thing when it's taken.

      The immune system � unable to recognize cocaine and other drug molecules because they are so small � can't make antibodies to attack them.

      To help the immune system distinguish the drug, Dr. Kosten attached inactivated cocaine to the outside of inactivated cholera proteins.

      In response, the immune system not only makes antibodies to the combination, which are harmless, but also recognizes the potent naked drug when it's ingested. The antibodies bind to the cocaine and prevent it from reaching the brain, where it normally would generate the highs that are so addictive.

      "It's a very clever idea," says David Eagleman, a Baylor neuroscientist. "Scientists have spent the last few decades figuring out reward pathways in the brain and how drugs like cocaine hijack the system. It turns out those pathways are difficult to rewire once they've seen the drug. But the vaccine just circumvents all that."

      Researchers work on cocaine vaccine

      Column - Hal Don House:

      Prison not part of solution to drug, alcohol addiction

      Publication Date: 12/12/07

      Addiction is an illness and cannot be treated successfully by punishment.

      The war on drugs has been lost since it began. The people who make the laws are well aware of this, but they can't do anything about it because the people who elect them do not understand this.

      People start using alcohol or other drugs for a variety of reasons.

      Some become addicted; some do not. Much of this is determined by genetics.

      People do not choose to be addicted. They may make bad choices in beginning this process, but once addicted, it is not a choice. This cycle can be broken, but incarceration seldom works. Treatment can work, but people seldom get that option anymore. Texas Gov. Ann Richards understood this process and was building treatment centers all over the state when she lost her re-election bid in 1994.

      The majority of people in prison in Texas, and throughout the nation, are there because of their addiction to alcohol or other drugs. Do they realize this? Not often. Denial is the most powerful symptom of chemical dependency. Addiction is the only disease that tells you that you don't have it.

      For many years, I talked to every person released from prison and placed on parole in Amarillo who had a history of drug or alcohol use. Very few of them were aware of the real reason they went to prison. Untreated, such individuals are doomed to repeat the same mistakes they made in the past. Prisons and jails are filled to the top with these people.

      I grew up in the 1960s, when "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" was our motto. Most of us used alcohol and all the other drugs available to us. Some of us became addicted; some did not. I was fortunate to get into treatment in October 1984 and have been clean and sober ever since.

      I started working at the Panhandle Alcohol Recovery Center in 1992 to help others learn how to treat this deadly disease. I have worked at the Pavilion, in the prisons and recently retired from the parole office here in Amarillo.

      There is no easy solution to this problem. I certainly am not saying people should not be held accountable for their actions; I'm just saying that what we are doing is not working. There needs to be more education about this disease at every level.

      Amarillo's parole officers are good people who try hard to help these offenders get back on their feet and stay out of prison. But with little knowledge or understanding about addiction and no means to treat these people, parole officers' hands are tied. This is true of the whole criminal justice system. Efforts are being made, but the bulk of available funds is spent to lock addicts up and keep them locked up.

      If we are going to imprison people for buying and using marijuana or cocaine, perhaps we should do the same with sugar. How many people in this country are obese and killing themselves because of their addiction to unhealthy foods? Addiction is the same disease, regardless of what we are addicted to. We have always found ways to change the way we feel, whether it be through chemicals, relationships, sex, exercise, shopping, gambling, TV - you name it. A behavior has become an addiction when it starts causing problems and we are unable to control it.

      Does putting a person in jail ever cure them of their addiction? No, it doesn't. Addiction is a bio-psycho-social disease, and its physical, mental and social aspects must be treated. It takes time, effort and money. For the addict, it is an ongoing process that lasts a lifetime.

      It is not an easy task. Whatever we are addicted to is always there waiting for us. Denial comes in and tells us that just one won't hurt. Just one beer or one joint or one pill or one shot. But if you are an addict, one is too many and a thousand is not enough.

      How many addicts/alcoholics are there in Amarillo? I know they would not all fit in the Civic Center.

      The problem is vast, and the way we have been dealing with it is not working.

      Hal Don House is a recently retired parole officer/counselor and an Amarillo business owner.

      Click here to read story:

      � The Amarillo Globe-News Online


      Dave Mann
      November 30, 2007

      For nearly 20 years, Joel Bennett shuttled drug addicts through courtrooms. He dutifully sent them off to prison, first as a prosecutor and later as a state district judge in Austin, though he knew he was accomplishing little. Incarceration wouldn�t puncture their addiction. They would use again. Predictably, case files bearing familiar names would pile again on his desk. A sense of futility hung over the exercise. �What I saw was the same people returning to the system over and over again. And their children coming into the system,� Bennett says. �No one talked about breaking the cycle of crime.� Bennett recognized, as an ever-growing number of judges do, that to keep drug offenders from landing back in prison, he had to help addicts free themselves from the fog of substance abuse.

      Bennett and Leon Grizzard are the two judges who oversee Travis County�s drug diversion court. They steer addicts into a court- supervised treatment program instead of prison. In the past decade, drug courts like the one in Travis County have successfully handled nonviolent defendants with drug and alcohol addictions�if success is defined as increasing public safety at the least cost to the taxpayer. People who complete drug-court programs rarely tumble back into substance abuse. According to four drug-court judges surveyed, about 10 percent of program graduates commit new crimes�a recidivism rate roughly one-fifth that of traditional probation routines. That means drug courts can ease the strain on overcrowded prisons and save taxpayer money. A study of the Dallas drug court by Southern Methodist University showed that every government dollar spent on diversion courts saved taxpayers more than $9.

      Though criminal justice reform groups have advocated drug courts for years, Texas until recently lagged behind the rest of the country.

      There are more than 1,200 drug courts nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. At one time, tiny Delaware had more drug courts than the Lone Star State. But Texas� bulging prison system is forcing Texas to catch up. Drug courts in Texas have ballooned from three in 2002 to 35 in 2007. The movement has sprung organically from the bottom up: Judges, prosecutors, counselors, and county officials have volunteered to create the programs in their jurisdictions.

      �Anyone who hears this becomes an advocate for it,� says Ana Y��ez- Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. �It�s been a domino effect.�

      More drug courts are on the way. Last spring, the Texas Legislature passed a bill requiring all counties with populations exceeding 200,000 to institute a drug court. The bill is expected to divert more than 2,300 addicts away from prisons during the next few years. In late October, Gov. Rick Perry awarded $4.4 million in state grants to drug courts, a much-needed boost in funding.

      But as drug courts become more widespread, it appears that�like the narcotics they were created to fight�the courts can be abused. State and federal governments have instituted few regulations and set up no oversight. Judges have wide latitude to decide people�s fates. In the hands of the right judges, the drug court model performs marvelously.

      Other judges appear to have trouble reconciling their punitive role with this new therapeutic one. The U.S. Department of Justice designed a set of guidelines and best practices�but they�re the criminal justice equivalent of blueprints without building codes. The guidelines suggest that judges receive ongoing training and partner with treatment programs and community groups.

      Because drug courts grow mostly from the local level, there is little standardization. Texas law broadly defines a drug court, but places hardly any restrictions on what judges can do. There is no oversight specifically for the drug courts. A recent case in Houston demonstrates the potential risks behind the courts� expansion. Judge K. Michael Mayes of Montgomery County is facing a federal lawsuit by a defendant who claims his treatment in Mayes� drug court was arbitrary and violated his rights to due process.

      �The issue is following best practices,� Y��ez-Correa says. In 2005, the group worked successfully with legislators to add to the budget bill some loosely standardized requirements for drug courts.

      Ostensibly, if a program takes state money, it�s required to follow the Justice Department�s broad guidelines for drug courts, including a recommendation that defense attorneys be present at all hearings. �We�ve taken the first step to make sure there is an expansion of the drug courts,� she says. �Now, as the program increases, those who haven�t tried it before need technical assistance from judges who are doing it right.�

      On a Wednesday night in early November, recovering addicts streamed into a drab courtroom in downtown Austin for their regular drug court session. The court, the second-oldest in Texas, has been in operation since 1993. Seated in the audience was a young, diverse crowd: white, black, and Latino; rich and poor; businessmen; college students; and manual laborers. Judge Bennett took the bench. On this night, the first order of business was a graduation. Each drug court is different �localities design their own programs and decide who can be admitted to them�but the foundations are the same. Prosecutors or judges refer nonviolent addicts or alcoholics to drug courts, which oversee treatment. Judges, along with teams of probation officers, attorneys, counselors, and family members, monitor each addict�s progress. On average, it takes 22 months for defendants to complete the Austin program�s three phases, after which their charges will be dismissed and, in some cases, expunged. If graduates remain clean, it can be as if they were never arrested.

      The bailiff called a name, and a young black man with braided hair in a red button-down shirt, tie, and black pants rose and walked before Bennett. (Drug courts are confidential, and the Observer was allowed to witness the proceedings on the condition that participants� names wouldn�t be printed.) �I know you�ve thought a lot about what you wanted to say,� Bennett said. �Now I want you to address the group.�

      The young man turned to face a roomful of fellow recovering addicts. His feet poked at the carpet. He clasped his hands behind his back.

      �These people are really here to help you,� he said. �I used to see it as a burden. Now I see it as a blessing.� He looked sheepishly at Bennett. �Is that enough?� he whispered.

      �No, that�s not enough,� Bennett bellowed. The audience laughed. The young man stumbled on for another minute, describing the stubbornness of his addiction, until Bennett smiled. �OK, I�m proud of you. Let�s give him a hand. He�s done a great job.� Everyone applauded. The young man walked through the courtroom�s double doors and, perhaps, into a life clear of addiction�or so Bennett hopes. Though drug courts offer a way to avoid prison time, the programs can be demanding: several counseling sessions a week, community service, weekly random drug tests, support group meetings, and frequent appearances before the judge are common. If a defendant stumbles, the judge can send them to jail for several days. If someone drops out, they likely will end up in prison.

      Bennett questioned defendants in various stages of the program. They stood alone, directly in front of the bench, like kids before the teacher�s desk. Drug court sessions are part probation hearing and part counseling session. The jagged edge of law enforcement blends with the encouragement of 12-step recovery programs. The result is addicts standing before judges, prosecutors, and probation officers� people who normally try to put them away�to divulge the most intimate and important details of their lives. During visits to hearings in several Texas cities, the Observer witnessed a woman ask a judge for help with a divorce, and another who inquired if having a child would impact her recovery. Several participants asked for help finding jobs.

      �You�re studying for your GED? How�s that going?� Bennett asked one man in a striped shirt. Another wanted permission to travel to Houston to see his family for Thanksgiving, which Bennett grudgingly approved as long as the man kept up his community service. The random drug tests don�t halt for the holidays, either.

      Next, Bennett brought forward a short, white youth who, despite several stints of rigorous inpatient drug treatment, had just tested positive for marijuana on his first urine sample in the program. �It�s like you haven�t learned anything,� Bennett yelled at him. �Each time you use, you�re going to jail. I�ve done that before.� As the kid slinked away, the judge eased back into a warmer tone: �Let�s give him a hand to encourage him.� Everyone clapped.

      In Corpus Christi, District Judge Sandra Watts has run the drug court for nearly four years. Her intimate, Tuesday-night court sessions have become known as �Tuesdays with Sandra.� She says, �I�m a different judge on Tuesday nights than I am during the day. There is a different philosophy when you�re running a drug court. There is a rapport being developed between the participants and the judge. I know a lot about their lives.�

      In the last 10 years, District Judge John Creuzot has molded Dallas County�s drug court into one of the most extensive and successful diversion programs in the state. (Watts referred to him as the drug court �granddaddy.�) In Dallas, addicts receive a clinical assessment when they enter the program to determine the kind of treatment they need, including mental health assistance. Many drug courts attempt to treat the root of the defendant�s addiction. But with the ability to refer addicts to a wider range of treatment facilities, Dallas may have the model program. The essential element that such courts must share, Creuzot says, is that treatment cannot work unless a judge connects with an addict.

      �The point is to get as far in [to people�s lives] as you can, and to get to know them,� he says. �It�s a different mind-set. You have to be engaged in who they are ... what their strengths and weaknesses are. Not everyone wants to do that.

      �You have to develop trust between them and you. They have to trust that you�re making decisions in their best interests, because they�re not accustomed to that in the criminal justice system. Nobody is, really. They have to get to know you and trust you and the decisions you�re making on their behalf.�

      Violating the rules of a program might land some participants in jail for the weekend to set them straight. But Austin�s Judge Bennett says it�s important not to punish too severely. �I�m not trying to break them down,� he says. �I�m trying to build them back up. I want them to feel better about themselves.�

      Paul Burns never considered himself an addict, though he concedes he drank too often. At 46, Burns lives near Conroe, a growing exurb north of Houston, with his wife and four kids. He operates a small oil company�it has eight wells�along with several other small businesses.

      His trouble with drug court began last April. Burns�already on probation for a minor drug possession charge�submitted a urine sample that tested positive for alcohol, a violation of his probation. Judge Mayes of Montgomery County�s 410th District Court gave Burns a choice: Enter Mayes� drug court treatment program, or the judge would revoke Burns� probation and send him to prison for several years. Burns didn�t see that as much of a choice. He joined Mayes� Substance Abuse Program. In addition to counseling and support group sessions, offenders in the program must submit to several random urine tests each month. On July 5, Burns was called in for a random drug test.

      His sample tested negative for drugs and alcohol, according to court records, but the sample was labeled �dilute,� which means, essentially, it was watered down. (Addicts sometimes try to dilute their urine to mask evidence of drug use.) Under Mayes� strict policies, anyone submitting a diluted urine sample is immediately hauled off to jail, without a hearing to explain themselves to the judge.

      Burns contends he�s been sober for eight months. He says he skipped breakfast on the morning of his urine test and drank several cups of coffee, which diluted his urine. He was shocked it landed him in jail.

      Burns remained there for 44 days, until late August. Five others in Mayes� program have been jailed in recent months because of a diluted urine sample, according to court records. Burns also claims that Mayes barred him from contacting his family during his stint in the county lockup.

      His lawsuit, filed in federal court, contends that his jailing without an opportunity to challenge his detention or go before a judge violated his constitutional right to due process. Normally, judges have wide discretion in handling offenders on probation. But Randall Kallinen, a Houston civil rights attorney who�s representing Burns, argues that probation requirements can�t violate someone�s civil rights. �There�s nothing in the Code of Criminal Procedure that says you can�t give an African American two extra years in prison because he�s an African American. That�s not written down anywhere, but everyone knows federal law won�t allow it. It�s a civil rights violation.�

      Mayes has refused to comment on the suit. He didn�t return two calls from the Observer seeking comment. But when the Observer visited Mayes� court in early November�before the lawsuit was filed�the judge argued that his policies helped free offenders from their addictions. Mayes� program does boast a record of success. Of the 41 people who have graduated from his program, he says not a single one has committed another drug offense. Several offenders in the drug court that morning sobbed and effusively thanked Mayes for helping them fight addiction and stay out of jail.

      �The immediate sanction, immediate consequence is huge. Everyone in the program knows it,� Mayes says. �Probation officers know in this court that if somebody has a [urine test] that looks like it�s diluted or maybe it�s a positive, they don�t file motions and wait for me to sign something. They immediately type up a one-page sheet� order of arrest�and we sign.

      �Here�s my philosophy: You�re on probation. I don�t have to prove you�re dirty; you have to prove to me you�re clean. You know why that�s so fair? This is what I tell them: Let�s say you apply for a job, you�re going to have to prove to them you�re clean, sober, doing well. So when you get out in the real world, you can handle the real heat. So that�s why we have the immediate consequence. I just decide how long I�m going to put them in jail. There�s always a consequence, and it�s always immediate. Otherwise, it just doesn�t have any impact.� Numerous law enforcement sources around the state say that dilute urine samples may�emphasis on may�indicate drug use or suspicious activity. Toxicologists say it is possible for addicts to mask drug use by diluting their urine, either by drinking a lot of water or taking pills that purportedly dilute urine enough to pass the test.

      Other judges find Mayes� methods overly harsh. All the other drug court judges interviewed for this story said they never jail an offender for dilute urine alone, simply because dilute urine has many causes, including overhydration. A dilute sample will lead to tighter scrutiny�more random drug screening, careful attention to the person�s performance�to watch for signs they may be relapsing. In most drug courts, an offender must fail at least two drug tests to spend even a weekend in jail.

      For Mayes, a dilute sample is a violation, period. His drug court program forbids dilute urine for any reason. He said he would jail offenders in his program for dilute urine even if they actually were clean.

      �Some people, let�s say, drink a lot of water�it�s a legitimate dilute. [I] still don�t care,� Mayes says. �A lot of guys say, well, I work out in the sun, I drink a lot of water. I say too bad. ... But here�s what Auggie [program counselor Agustin Gutierrez] tells them: You can avoid that�vitamins, multivitamins. Pregnant women, there�s some kind of vitamin he gives them. In other words, if you�re clean, you can keep yourself healthy enough so you won�t have a dilute problem.�

      Judge Creuzot in Dallas finds Mayes� approach exceedingly harsh. �We just don�t throw people in jail,� he says. In fact, long jail stints can be self-defeating�Creuzot says most research shows that jail terms longer than about five days for drug court offenders can be harmful�isolating someone who needs support.

      Judge Watts pointed out that defense attorneys are present at all her drug court hearings to guard offenders� rights to due process. In fact, drug court guidelines issued by the Department of Justice stipulate that defense attorneys be present at all hearings. No defense counsel was present when the Observer witnessed a session in Mayes� court on November 6.

      Still, the judges interviewed for this story said lawmakers shouldn�t place any restrictions on drug courts. �Judges and the community should decide what works best for that community,� Bennett says.

      Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who helps refer cases to Bennett�s court, put it this way: �You can�t make the list [of restrictions] long enough for a half-wit judge. A wise judge doesn�t need a list.�

      Printed from The Power of Drug Courts

      Column: Charlene Cheek:
      Imprisoned drug offenders need rehab, education

      Publication Date: 11/06/06

      Never before in U.S. history have so many individuals been released from prison.

      Approximately 600,000 adults leave state and federal prisons each year. Many are in a maximum-security facility one day and released onto the streets of our cities and towns the next. They are released back into society with the same problems that got them incarcerated in the first place.

      Most prisoners return home with most of their treatment needs unmet, despite a lengthy history of alcohol and drug abuse. Research clearly demonstrates that rehabilitation programs reduce recidivism, but just when evidence of that fact is mounting, many states are dismantling projects due to budget cuts.

      I received a letter recently from state Sen. Kel Seliger regarding this issue.

      "As Vice Chair of the Criminal Justice Committee I am in a unique position to examine and improve rehabilitation efforts for the state," he wrote. The senator admitted that "(I)n 2003, the State of Texas experienced a $10 billion shortfall in funding for state programs, and as a result, many of the rehabilitation efforts in prisons were drastically cut back or eliminated."

      Seliger believes, however, that "it is essential that we study those programs that reduce recidivism and reinstate those that are most effective." He assures us that "Senator John Whitmire recently authorized a staff workgroup to consider current methods of rehabilitation for drug and alcohol offenders in prison."

      In spite of our many protests regarding the lack of rehabilitation offered to correctional clients, all Seliger has to offer is yet another study group. But he does say, "I am hopeful that the work group can identify the best use of state funds," and he "looks forward to working with Senator Whitmire on this issue."

      Warren Burger, the late chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, stated: "We must accept the reality that to confine offenders behind walls without trying to change them is an expensive folly with short- term benefits - winning battles while losing the war. It is wrong.

      It is expensive. It is stupid."

      Many state legislatures also question the necessity of imprisoning non-violent drug offenders. To that end, Arizona voters approved Proposition 200, the drug Medicalization, Prevention and Control Act.

      A central purpose of the act is to expand drug treatment and educational services for drug offenders, thereby potentially diverting many arrested drug abusers from prison. To fund the program, the Arizona Legislature established the state's Drug Treatment and Education Fund, administered by Arizona's Office of the Courts. The fund draws revenue from the state's luxury tax on liquor.

      A recent study by Arizona's Administrative Office of the Courts concluded that the new law is "resulting in safer communities and more substance abusing probationers in recovery."

      The report goes on to say that the law has saved the state millions of dollars and has helped more than 75 percent of program participants remain drug-free.

      Americans are frustrated with a prison system that releases inmates with few of the skills they need to survive. We will continue to experience shortfalls in our budget because prisons place a tremendous strain on taxpayers. Our prison population has doubled during the past 10 years, and there seems to be no end in sight.

      The state of Texas plans on adding 11,000 beds in the near future. The cost to build just one prison cell is $80,000, and that's only the beginning.

      Prisoners are the only citizens with a constitutional right to health care. Consider the cost of that.

      The waste of human life and the collateral damage from our "just lock 'em up" mentality is untold. When we think about our current situation, the words of former Chief Justice Burger should continue to ring in our ears.

      It's wrong. It's expensive. It's stupid.

      Charlene Cheek of Canyon is founder of the Panhandle Plains Chapter of Mothers Against Methamphetamines.

      Click here to return to story:
      Need Rehab/Education

      © The Amarillo Globe-News Online

      August 2006:

      It was reported from the Huckberry Unit,
      that a young woman committed suicide due
      to the punishment and mistreatment from
      the staff of The Gateway Program.
      She only had a few months to go to
      complete the program but was not able
      to endure the pain and suffering that
      continues to go on in this facility.
      The counselor took away her medications
      that was prescribed from her doctor which
      may had caused her death if it was for
      mental-illness. They are not doctors and
      have no legal/medical right to do so!
      Gateway should be held accountable for
      the caused of this young woman's death!

      She lefted her husband and children behind
      due to Gateway's neglect and error.

      March 2006:

      This Message was E-Mailed to; Gateway-To-Hell:

      Please Note;
      This is the only positive report on Gateway
      that we have received so far...

      AND WAS RELEASED ON OCT 12, 2004.

      DALLAS, TX

      October, 2005:

      WE WON!!!
      We have won our first battle
      with Gateway from the Attorney General.
      Gateway refused to send out any
      information about their program with TDCJ
      to taxpayor-citizens when requested.
      The AG requested Gateway to send their
      information concerning their programs but...
      no response from them yet.
      Next step;
      file criminal charges against Gateway.
      We are also requesting the same
      information from Salvation Army
      but, like Gateway, they too are
      refusing to send any
      information about their program.
      What do these Vendors of TDCJ have
      to hide from taxpayor-citizens???
      Something is very wrong with this
      since We, the People of Texas
      pay these Vendors with TDCJ
      with our tax dollars for
      their programs that a lot of
      Texas Prisoners/Parolees
      have to participate in.

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