Pubdate: Thu, 22 Feb 2007
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2007 Los Angeles Times
Author: Jenifer Warren, Times Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Treatment)


The State Overseer Of The Corrections System Says The $1 Billion 
Spent Since 1989 On Programs Has Failed To Lessen The Recidivism Rate

SACRAMENTO -- California's $1-billion investment in drug treatment 
for prisoners since 1989 has been "a complete waste of money," the 
state's inspector general said Wednesday, and has done nothing to 
reduce the number of inmates cycling in and out of custody.

One study of the two largest in-prison programs found that recidivism 
rates for inmates who participated were actually a bit higher than 
those of a group of convicts who did not receive treatment, Inspector 
General Matt Cate said.

He said corrections officials were told in more than 20 reports since 
1997 that the programs were failing but did nothing to fix them, 
choosing instead to expand them and fund more studies of their results.

Successful treatment programs could increase public safety, "change 
lives and help relieve the state's prison overcrowding crisis," Cate 
said in releasing the 50-page special review. "But so far the 
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has squandered that opportunity."

The Office of the Inspector General is an independent state agency 
that oversees the corrections department.

In anticipation of the scathing report, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on 
Tuesday ordered a shake-up of the department's drug treatment 
operation and put someone new in charge.

Kathryn Jett, director of the California Department of Alcohol and 
Drug Programs since 2000, will lead the reorganized division within 
corrections. The governor called Jett, 53, "the right person at the 
right time to take on this critical responsibility."

Cate applauded Jett's appointment and the governor's "willingness to 
address this problem at its very foundation. What I didn't want was a 
patch job, because this is such a total failure," he said.

Jett said she welcomed the challenge of improving outcomes for 
drug-addicted inmates -- and for taxpayers.

In an interview, she called the inspector general's report "an 
excellent blueprint for change" and said she took the job because of 
the governor's "strong commitment to reform."

One in five inmates in California is serving time for a drug offense, 
and an even larger proportion -- more than half of the 172,000 men 
and women behind bars -- need drug treatment, the inspector general said.

California's recidivism rate, meanwhile, remains among the highest in 
the country, with about 70% of inmates returning to prison within 
several years of their release.

Cate said treatment for substance abuse "offers one of the state's 
best hopes of reducing the number of inmates who repeatedly cycle in 
and out of prisons."

Breaking that cycle could alleviate the severe overcrowding that 
grips the correctional system. The state is under federal court 
pressure to ease the jam-packed conditions by June or face a possible 
limit on new prison admissions.

The state spends $143 million a year on substance abuse treatment for 
inmates and parolees, in part through 38 privately operated programs 
at 22 prisons. About 78,000 prisoners have been treated behind bars 
since the programs began in 1989.

The programs' ineffectiveness, Cate said, boils down to poor 
management by the department, which often houses them in prison 
settings where they are doomed to fail. Among the problems:

The state's "therapeutic community" treatment model calls for 
participants to be separated from other inmates, but such separation 
rarely occurs. Instead, participants share yards and other prison 
facilities with general population inmates, and security procedures 
routinely disrupt treatment.

Some treatment programs are at prisons that are subjected to frequent 
lockdowns, meaning that inmates are confined to their cells around 
the clock. When that occurs, treatment for them essentially stops 
until the lockdown is lifted.

Recognizing the importance of intensive group counseling, the 
contracts with program providers require enough counselors for an 18 
to 1 ratio of inmates to counselors. About two-thirds of the programs 
do not meet that standard.

Cate said one egregious example of the department's mismanagement was 
its willingness to pay for extensive studies that evaluate the 
treatment programs without then correcting problems those studies identified.

Over a nine-year period that ended last year, the state paid $8.2 
million for such studies by UCLA and San Diego State University. The 
research identified weaknesses and recommended fixes, but the 
department failed to act.

Meanwhile, the Legislature twice funded an expansion of the programs 
without evidence that they were delivering positive results, the report said.

"The litany of problems adds up to a $1-billion failure," the report 
said, including "most tragically, failure to help California inmates 
change their lives and, in so doing, make our streets safer."

Rod Mullen, who runs an organization that has operated drug treatment 
programs in the state prisons since 1990, called the report "a mixed bag."

"Saying it's a billion-dollar failure is really a mischaracterization 
of what's happened, because there have been some very successful 
programs that have delivered amazing reductions in recidivism," said 
Mullen, chief executive officer of Amity Foundation.

Mullen agreed, however, with Cate's suggestion that it was a waste of 
money to provide in-prison treatment without follow-up care in the community.

"That's the key, and we've known that for 10 or 15 years," Mullen 
said. "What's been missing is a commitment by the department, the 
Legislature and the governor to make sure it happens."

The inspector general's report can be viewed at
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman