Pubdate: Wed, 31 Jul 2002
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2002 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Louis B. Garippo


Louis B. Garippo, Board chairman TASC Inc

The Chicago Tribune recently published an article about Proposition 36, a 
treatment diversion program for drug offenders in California ("Jury out on 
treatment program; Novel anti-drug strategy may be a budget victim," News, 
July 2).

The article identifies California and Arizona as the first states "to take 
a comprehensive approach in making treatment available to all eligible drug 
offenders in their states."

Thanks to our public policymakers and leaders in our state and local 
justice systems, however, Illinois has had a system for linking criminal 
justice with community treatment services for 25 years.

Under Illinois law, many non-violent, addicted offenders entering the 
criminal justice system are eligible for diversion into treatment by way of 
TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities), a non- profit entity 
with representatives who serve every criminal courthouse in the state. TASC 
conducts assessments of offenders' clinical needs and refers them to 
appropriate treatment in the community. Regular communication with all of 
the parties involved ensures offender accountability. TASC also makes 
referrals to other social services, such as educational and vocational 
training, mental health treatment and child welfare services.

Through this process, thousands of individuals every year receive treatment 
instead of prison time on their way to healthy, productive citizenship. 
Combined with the leverage of criminal sanctions for non- compliance, 
treatment is a proven alternative for reducing drug use and recidivism.

Yet while we have the infrastructure in place to address this issue, two 
concerns remain. First is a sentencing structure that continues to 
incarcerate low-level offenders at an overwhelming rate. Drug offenders 
currently make up 40 percent of new admissions to prison, in part because 
of sentencing laws that mandate prison for crimes involving relatively 
small amounts of drugs and that are particularly harsh for repeat 
offenders. California's Proposition 36 leaves no room for judicial 
discretion, which is essential in balancing the "carrot" of treatment with 
the "stick" of criminal justice sanctions and accountability.

There is no need to burden taxpayers or our prison system with mandatory 
incarceration for offenders who would be better served with treatment. Not 
only is treatment more cost-effective than incarceration, but it also 
presents much better prospects for long- term abstinence from drug use and 
criminal behavior.

My second concern echoes that expressed in the article--the severe shortage 
of adequate treatment resources. Simply stated, there are not enough 
treatment slots available for the sheer volume of non-violent offenders 
with substance abuse problems. National estimates suggest that 65 percent 
of inmates would benefit from some form of substance- abuse treatment. In 
Illinois, that equates to 25,000 people in prison alone, not to mention 
tens of thousands more on probation and parole.

As state budgets tighten and human services get cut, we lose the 
opportunity to restore these individuals to self-sufficiency and 
participation in their communities. It should be no surprise that half of 
all inmates released will return to prison within three years. Their 
communities simply don't have the resources to support their re- entry.

I encourage public policymakers in Illinois to pursue a reframing of our 
sentencing laws for drug crimes, as well as a commitment to providing 
adequate treatment resources. For Illinois to continue to lead the nation 
in designing and implementing cost-effective alternatives to incarceration, 
we must also be leaders in providing treatment to those who need it.

To do otherwise sets up our public systems--and those who seek 
recovery--for failure.
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