Pubdate: Thu, 06 Sep 2001
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2001 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Melody M. Heaps
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Chicago -- Recent articles and columns in the Chicago Tribune have focused 
on the ineffectiveness of the "war on drugs," the lengthy incarceration 
rates for drug offenders, the common-sense approach of drug courts and the 
rising rates of heroin abuse among suburban teens.

All these stories are related. For too long, our public policies have 
regarded addiction as a criminal justice issue, when in fact it is our 
nation's No. 1 public health problem.

Misguided sentencing practices have sent thousands of nonviolent substance 
abusers to jails and prisons who would have been better placed in 
community-based drug treatment programs.

Without intervention, addicted offenders serve their time, then return to 
their communities with their addictions intact, only tore-offend and get 
arrested again. A primary reason for this repetitive cycle is that 
continued drug abuse over time alters the information circuits of the 
brain, causing impairment in reasoning, decision-making and the ability to 
perceive consequences for one's actions.

Incarceration does not alter the addicted brain's craving for drugs. 
Therefore, even in cases where treatment is provided in jails or prisons, 
follow-up treatment in the community is necessary to help individuals 
"reprogram" their brains to function normally again in day-to-day activities.

Public sentiment now is beginning to recognize the ineffectiveness of 
previous "war on drugs" tactics. There are calls for more sensible, 
cost-efficient and effective ways to deal with drug abuse, both as a 
community safety concern and as a public health issue. Fortunately, 
Illinois is ahead of the rest of the country in terms of creating and 
implementing effective alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent drug 
offenders. For 25 years, the statewide TASC (Treatment Alternatives for 
Safe Communities) program has served as a resource to the criminal courts 
by providing screening, assessment, placement into treatment and ongoing 
monitoring of nonviolent offenders deemed eligible by statute.

Rather than creating an either-or scenario where treatment is mandated over 
incarceration, the TASC program allows for judicial discretion in 
sentencing. TASC combines the clinical aspects of treatment with the 
sanctions of the court, helping offenders to overcome their addictions 
while remaining accountable for their behavior.

While Illinois has the infrastructure to manage large numbers of addicted 
offenders, much remains to be done. Interventions for addicted offenders 
are needed not only in the courts but throughout the justice system, from 
arrest through sentencing, probation, incarceration and release. 
Furthermore, because recovery is a long and often difficult process, these 
programs need access to adequate and appropriate treatment resources in the 

To continually incarcerate people in response to a public health problem is 
the ultimate waste of human potential. When we incarcerate rather than 
treat addicted offenders, not only do we pay undue jail and prison costs, 
but we further burden the community with families torn apart by addiction 
and incarceration. With effective treatment and close monitoring, we can 
help nonviolent drug offenders become productive citizens and restore their 
families and communities to health.

Melody M. Heaps, President TASC Inc
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