Source: Orange County Register
Pubdate: 9 Jan 1998
Author: Dan Freedman - Hearst Newspapers


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.