Pubdate: Sun, 12 Jun 2005
Source: Post and Courier, The (Charleston, SC)
Copyright: 2005 Evening Post Publishing Co.
Author: Glenn Smith, staff writer
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Programs For Addicts Lacking In S.C. Prisons

BISHOPVILLE--The middle-aged man ran a tattooed hand through his buzz-cut
hair and gently lowered his lean frame onto a white towel draped over a
rusty steel bench.

Placing his hands on either side of his dog-eared Bible, he sat in
hazy light filtering through the thin windows beside the bunk bed in
his prison cell, trying to focus on the passages and ignore the
outside din.

In another day, it would be over. He would step outside the
maximum-security gates of Lee Correctional Institution and try to move
on, 11 years of his life gone. The 45-year-old Spartanburg native was
admittedly nervous. When he last saw freedom, his days were a blur of
burglaries and petty thefts, stealing what he could to support his
ravenous appetite for crack and powder cocaine.

That's all behind him now, he said with a knowing nod. He insists he's
done with drugs and is ready to rebuild what's left of his life,
starting with a modest new career cleaning gutters. The five months he
just spent in substance abuse treatment at Lee gave him the confidence
and tools he needs to resist the gnawing temptation that has haunted
him since he was 13, he said.

"I know it helped me, and I'm never going back to drugs," he said, his
voice firm. "I'm sick and tired of feeling sick and tired."

While counselors may have succeeded in helping this man conquer his
dependency, thousands more just like him crowd the prisons of South
Carolina, unable to get similar help. State corrections officials
estimate that 44 percent of the more than 23,000 inmates are in need
of substance abuse treatment, but programs to treat them in the
state's 29 prisons are few, the space within them increasingly scarce.

"We're treating less than 1 percent of those inmates," said Jon
Ozmint, director of the state's prison system. "The bulk of the
population is coming in with drug or alcohol problems, and we're not
treating nearly enough of them."

Prison officials say the problem is indicative of a burgeoning
corrections system that has failed to keep pace with years of growth
fueled in part by stiffer sentencing laws and other get-tough
measures. In the past two decades, the average number of inmates in
state prisons has nearly tripled. Though growth was relatively flat
last year, South Carolina still had the nation's fifth highest
incarceration rate, according to a federal study.

In recent years, however, the corrections department has been one of
the hardest hit by the state's budget shortfall, cutting programs,
education and workers. This year, the Legislature added $10 million to
the agency's budget, which should fund more than 100 new officers and
pay for raises for existing workers. Lawmakers also approved $3.2
million in one-time funding to save two substance abuse programs and
shore up the agency's aging transportation fleet, which has not
replaced a vehicle in six years.

Still, Ozmint maintains that South Carolina's corrections system is
woefully short of the cash it needs to keep pace with the demands
placed upon it. The Legislature likes laws that are tough on
offenders, but lawmakers don't like to pay the costs of incarcerating
these people, he said. The state spends just $33.10 per day on each
inmate, which ranks among the lowest in nation, he said.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston,
said Ozmint needs to do a better job of running his department
efficiently and living within his budget because the state has no
intention of backing off its strong stance against criminals.

"Our goal is to keep bad people away from good people, and we are
going to keep on doing that," he said. "No one is going to take a
chance on releasing these criminals into society."


South Carolina's experience is hardly unique. Between mid-2003 and
mid-2004, the nation's prisons and jails added about 900 inmates each
week to hold about 2.1 million people, or one in every 138 U.S.
residents, the federal government reported in April. By the end of
June last year, there were about 48,000 more inmates, or 2.3 percent,
more than the year before.

"The most basic reason is that we continue to bring more people in,
and we are keeping them for longer," said Paige Harrison, co-author of
the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report.

Much of this can be traced to "get-tough" policies enacted during the
1980s and 1990s, such as mandatory drug sentencing laws and
"three-strikes-and-you're-out" legislation. In 1995, South Carolina
enacted "truth-in-sentencing" provisions that designated a series of
serious crimes for which offenders could not win parole, requiring
them to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. This has added
months and years onto the average stay of many offenders.

The average person convicted of first-degree burglary, for example,
can expect to spend an additional 64 months in prison, an increase of
about 51 percent from the period before the laws were enacted,
according to a corrections study.

Supporters say such policies have helped drive down crime rates here
and across the nation. The FBI reported last week that the number of
violent crimes in the nation dropped by 1.7 percent last year, while
property crimes were down 1.8 percent.

"At least to some extent, the falling crime rate is a result of some
of these stronger laws and longer sentences," said Charleston County
Sheriff Al Cannon. "To say that is not a factor is naive."

But longer stays also have led to older inmates and more prisoners in
need of medical care. Nearly 3,000 inmates have sentences that exceed
20 years, and more than 1,800 are serving life sentences. There were
368 inmates older than 60 in 2004, up from 220 in 1993, according to
corrections records.

"There is a slow but steady growth in older inmates, and you are going
to see that number go up," said Ozmint, whose agency spends about $58
million to cover health care costs.

Inmate growth can be seen at every level in the state, with county
jails struggling to keep pace as well. Charleston County's detention
center processed more than 22,000 inmates last year, and it routinely
runs at nearly double its 661-inmate capacity. County Council plans to
spend $1 million to hire architects and engineers to design a
1,371-bed expansion of the Leeds Avenue jail to meet the demand.

In Berkeley County, the Hill-Finklea Detention Facility was
overcrowded the day it opened 10 years ago. These days, the jail
routinely fits 300 or more inmates into a space designed for 154, said
Capt. Barry Currie, jail director. The county is planning an expansion
with more than 100 new beds, but those likely will fill up as soon as
it opens, he said.

"It's a battle every day, and I don't see it getting any better,"
Currie said.

State Sen. Robert Ford, a Charleston Democrat who serves on the Senate
Corrections and Penology Committee, said the state could reduce its
burden significantly by using alternatives to prison such as satellite
monitoring bracelets for inmates convicted of drug offenses and other
non-violent crimes.

"It costs about $8 a day to monitor a person compared to the kind of
money we are spending now to keep a person in prison or jail on a
daily basis," he said. "These people could be out, in their own home,
holding down a job and paying for their own medical care. Once we lock
them up, we're responsible for them."


Drug offenses remain the leading cause of incarceration in South
Carolina prisons, accounting for about 5,300 inmates, according to
state records. Many more inmates, however, are battling drug or
alcohol addictions, authorities said.

Marc Mouer, assistant director for The Sentencing Project, a
Washington, D.C., organization that promotes prison reform, said the
number of people incarcerated for drug offenses in the United States
has grown from about 40,000 people in 1980 to roughly 450,000 today.
While drug abuse treatment could help reduce that number, the need
historically has outpaced the availability of such programs, he said.

"It was limited to begin with, and it keeps falling further and
further behind," he said.

There are 272 slots in a treatment program for male offenders between
the ages of 17 and 25 at Turbeville Correctional Institute, 96 for
women inmates at Leath prison in Greenwood and 47 for young female
inmates at Goodman Correctional in Columbia. The thousands of others
who might qualify for help must compete for space at Lee, where the
number of beds dropped recently from 256 to 128 because of staffing
shortages, said Keisha Perry, director of substance abuse services for
the corrections department.

With little space for the program, which runs three to six months,
openings generally go to those who will soon be paroled or released.
They attend classes and counseling, work on self-discovery and curbing
anger and other problems that help fuel their chemical abuse. The idea
is to get them clean before they hit the streets.

To Perry, the need is obvious: "They are going to be coming back to
our communities. They are coming back to us."

On a recent afternoon, a large group of inmates gathered in the middle
of the cellblock to speak with counselors and share stories of their
journeys to self-awareness. The cinder block walls around them were
decorated with artwork showing the effects of drugs on the body or
scenes of inmates reflecting on the lives they had left behind.
Posters trumpeted inspirational messages or words of warning, such as
"Wake me up inside from the nothing I have become."

A Post and Courier reporter was allowed to attend the session and
speak with inmates on the condition that they not be identified.

A 36-year-old inmate from Sumter said he came to realize in prison
that he had been as addicted to selling drugs as his customers were to
using them. He loved the art of the deal, the rush of skirting the law
and, most of all, the bundles of cash he earned for a few minutes work.

"There is no difference between the drug dealer and the user. You get
high from that money," he said. "Everything your family instilled in
you, you forget."

The inmate, who quit college to sell drugs, said he is ready to put
that life behind him. But he, like some others in the substance abuse
program, credit their own resolve more than the program itself. Some
said they just participate in the sessions to win parole.

One inmate from Greenville said he needed the help most three years
ago, when he landed in prison for breaking into a coffee shop and
stealing $30 to support his crack habit. The man, a University of
South Carolina graduate with a degree in communications, said his life
spiraled out of control after he started smoking crack, leading him to
steal from his family and others to support his habit. He eventually
kicked the addiction in prison, but had to sweat through the process
on his own because the drug programs were full.

"I knew if I didn't stop I would die, and I didn't want to die," he

The middle-aged inmate, set for release, said the programs should be
available to all who need them, but the process only works for those
who want to make a change. He said he quit drugs four years ago after
the emptiness that followed his father's death pushed him toward the

For the first seven years of his sentence, he easily found the drugs
he needed from a thriving black market within the prison walls, he

"If you want to buy dope, you can buy dope," he said. "You have to
want to get clean."

Amount included in the upcoming state budget for the South Carolina
Department of Corrections.

Number of prisoners in state or federal prisons in South Carolina as
of June 30, 2004

Average age of prisoners admitted to South Carolina state prisons in

Percentage of state inmates last year who were black.

Percentage of state inmates whose most serious offense was linked to

Average number of inmates added to the nation's prisons and jails
between mid-2003 and mid-2004.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics and South Carolina Department of
- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin