Pubdate: Tue, 06 Feb 2001
Source: Christian Science Monitor (US)
Copyright: 2001 The Christian Science Publishing Society
Contact:  One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115
Fax: (617) 450-2031


In A Growing Shift, Some Republicans Are Calling For Treatment Rather Than 

For decades, the so-called war on drugs was sacrosanct politically - a 
must-win that both Republicans and Democrats championed, some for fear of 
being tagged "soft on crime."

But a quiet revolution is brewing that could transform the nation's 
approach to dealing with illicit drug use. And some of the leading rebels, 
and newest converts, are state-level Republicans.

With drug offenders bulging the seams of the nation's prisons and draining 
state coffers, officials are talking more openly about the alternative of 
court-ordered drug treatment, as evidence grows that it is more effective 
than prison in reducing recidivism and returning people to productive 
lives.As a result, the roster of the reform movement is expanding rapidly 
from its traditionally small liberal base to include some big-name 
Republicans, including Govs. George Pataki of New York and Gary Johnson of 
New Mexico.

"States are going to have to be the engines of reform," says Governor 
Johnson. "The reason is that it's too hot to touch from a national 
political standpoint. You're going to have to see it at a local state 
level, before it really catches fire and national politicians take it on."

But some reform advocates, like columnist Arianna Huffington, are hoping 
the Bush administration will also look for a new way to ameliorate the drug 
damage done in this country. So far President Bush, who has yet to announce 
a new drug czar, has sent conflicting signals about how his administration 
will approach drug policy.His campaign rhetoric hewed closely to the "war 
on drug" theme. But as governor of Texas, he supported some prison-based 
treatment programs. And since taking office, he has appointed a 
conservative criminologist to a high-level White House post who's come out 
against mandatory minimum sentences for drug users.

"I believe he has an opportunity to do a 'Nixon goes to China' on this," 
says Ms. Huffington.

The current drug policy, which is based primarily around mandatory prison 
sentences for drug offenders, emerged out of frustration with spiraling 
rates of drug use in late 1970s. New York's then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller 
decided the best deterrent was guaranteed jail time.

What became known as the Rockefeller Drug Laws set long sentences - 15 
years to life for selling two ounces of a narcotic or possessing four.

That get-tough strategy became a model for the nation.It was designed to 
stop drug kingpins before their wares got to the streets.But few high level 
dealers were caught. Instead, the nation's prison population quadrupled, 
adding hundreds of thousands of low-level dealers, young couriers, and 
desperate addicts, like Jennifer Lugo.

The Brooklyn native starting using when she was 13. When she "woke up" at 
40, she was facing her fourth felony conviction for possession and selling 
narcotics."I was always my own best customer," she says.

She did try drug treatment at one time, but ended up getting addicted to 
methadone and the prescription drug Xanex and soon found herself right back 
where she started. She was sure she was headed "upstate" to prison once again.

"At that point in my life I felt hopeless, helpless, I had no self-esteem, 
no motivation, and I was actually scared to come off all of these drugs," 
she says.

The fact that she was an addict first and a dealer second caught the eye of 
prosecutors.She was given an opportunity to participate in New York's Drug 
Treatment Alternative-to-Prison Program (DTAP). Under the program, started 
by the Brooklyn district attorney's office 10 years ago, offenders are 
offered two years of court-ordered drug treatment.If they fail to complete 
it or re-offend, they'll end up in prison, facing the same sentence they 
did before treatment.

"I was tired, detox scared me, but it was the first time I took a look at 
my life," Ms. Lugo says. "I didn't see any kind of a light at any tunnel."

That was three years ago. Lugo completed the program and is now a case 
manager at Samaritan Village, a drug treatment center in Richmond Hill in 
Queens.When she walks through the halls, it's clear the clients and 
co-workers think of her as a star - someone who'd been down so far, no one 
thought she'd manage to come up.

"When you meet her on the street, you'd have no idea where she was just a 
few years ago," says Ann Swern, the prosecutor who heads the DTAP Program.

A recent study shows DTAP has reduced the recidivism rates of its graduates 
by more than 50 percent. It's also saved the state more than $18 million.

Studies of similar alternative programs around the country have produced 
similar results. "Science backs up our analysis that treatment is not only 
more benign and less expensive, it's more effective in responding to the 
drug problem than imprisonment," says Robert Gangi, head of the 
Correctional Association of New York.

Those successes prompted Governor Pataki to begin the year by proposing 
reforms of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. He would reduce some sentences and 
mandate treatment for some first-time, nonviolent offenders. While it 
doesn't go as far as some critics would like, they do call it a "good first 

New Mexico's Johnson has gone much further. He's called for probation and 
treatment for first and second time drug offenders in lieu of jail. 
Increased spending on prevention and education programs, as well as new 
funds for voluntary treatment centers. His goal is to move "from an 
incarceration model to a medical model" as a way to reduce "the harm that 
drugs perpetrate on society."
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart