Pubdate: Mon, 4 May 1998 Source: New Haven Register Section: Front Page Contact: http://www.ctcentral.com/ Author: William Kaempffer DRUGS SEEN AT ROOT OF MOST CRIME NEW HAVEN - The most effective way to change criminals' lives is drug treatment, not stiffer jail terms, according to a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. "They're just going to go out there and do more crimes if we don't do something about the underlying issues," said Joseph A. Califano Jr., president of the center and former U.S. secretary of health, education and welfare. Foremost of those underlying issues is addiction to alcohol and other drugs, he said. Califano spoke Friday before the Connecticut Probation and Parole Association, whose members deal daily with felons' efforts to avoid returning to jail. According to the report, released earlier this year, addiction or abuse of alcohol and other drugs played a role in the jailing of 80 percent of the 1.7 million people behind bars today. They may have violated drug laws, been high at the time of the crime, stole property to finance their habits, or had a history of abuse and addiction. "This really drives home the problem of violence and drug and alcohol abuse in this country," Califano said. His center's statistics indicate that 17 percent of convicts serving time for property crimes committed the crime to pay for drugs, and more than 60 percent were regular drug users. The percentages for repeat offenders is even more startling, Califano said. Forty-one percent of first-time offenders used drugs regularly, compared to 63 percent of inmates with two convictions and 63 percent for those with five or more convictions. To combat that, the center recommends additional funding for in-prison and post-prison addiction treatment, increased availability of religious and spiritual activities in prison, possible early release for inmates successfully completing drug programs, job placement and training after release, and a major increase in research funding to improve cost-efficient treatment. The group calls for ending mandatory sentencing, contending it robs inmates of any incentive to go into treatment because they have no hope of early release. "The problem is with politicians," said Califano. They want to seem tough on crime, he said, and therefore are hesitant to give funding to prisons. His center estimates treatment would cost about $6,500 per inmate, but maintains it could save more than five times that for each rehabilitated prisoner in the form of reduced crime, arrest and prosecution costs, medical care and incarceration costs.