Source: Orange County Register Contact: Pubdate: 9 Jan 1998 Author: Dan Freedman - Hearst Newspapers THEY'RE ALSO PRISONERS OF ALCOHOL AND DRUG ABUSE SOCIAL ISSUES: Report says those substances played a role in the crimes of 80 percent of the inmates in the nation's prisons. WASHINGTON - Drugs or alcohol-and sometimes both-played a role in the crimes of 80 percent of the nation's 1.7 (million sic)prison inmates,according to a report released Thursday by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. Yet while the number of inmates in state and federal prisons needing treatment rose 5 percent from 1995 to 1996, the number of those receiving it went down 11 percent in that period, the study found. Citing this "treatment gap," former health secretary Joseph Califano, now president of the New York-based center, called for "a second front in the war on crime" to solve substance-abuse problems in prison so inmates will be less likely to commit new crimes upon release. "Failure to use the criminal-justice system to get nonviolent drug-and alcohol-abusing offenders into treatment is irrational public policy," Califano said at a news conference. The report said that of the 1.7 million people now in prison, 1.4 million were either convicted of violating drug or alcohol laws, were high on drugs or alcohol when they committed other crimes, stole property to buy drugs, or have a history of drug and alcohol abuse or addiction. With all the emphasis in recent years on drugs, alcohol often is overlooked as a leading ingredient in crime, Califano said. The center's study showed that 21 percent of state inmates in jail for violent crimes were drunk and not under the influence of any drug. The study noted that from 1980 to 1996, the nation's prison population tripled - from 500,000 to 1.7 million - as succeeding administrations and Congresses doled out billions for prison construction and enacted laws increasing penalties for crimes. Califano acknowledged that crime rates have dropped dramatically in the past five years and said the rising number of prisoners has a lot to do with it. But he characterized the current prison population as a ticking time bomb, ready to commit more crimes upon release if drug and alcohol symptoms go untreated. "This kind of rehabilitation holds a potential for enormous benefits in crime reduction, tax reduction and benefits to the economy," Califano said. The report said an investment of $6,500 a year per person to treat inmates would yield an economic benefit of $68,800 for every inmate who got out of jail and then avoided crime, stayed sober and kept a job. At the same gathering, President Clinton's top drug adviser said the government has begun to spend more on treatment as it focused its efforts on keeping the nation's teens and children from turning to drugs. But Barry McCaffrey, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the federal government alone can't be the solution. "This is a law-enforcement no-brainer to move toward treatment," he said.