Wednesday, March 12, 2003
Associated Press - March 11, 2003
WASHINGTON (AP) - Prosecutors can reduce drug crime more effectively by sending nonviolent drug offenders to a strict treatment program instead of prison, according to sponsors of a study released Tuesday.
The Drug Treatment Alternative-to-Prison was launched in 1990 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City after the crack cocaine epidemic deluged the court system with cases.
``It makes a phenomenal difference,'' said Joseph Califano, chairman of Columbia University's Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. ``We do not have to throw away the key for a large number of people we thought had no chance.''
The study compared 280 program participants with 130 drug offenders who served prison terms. It found that those in the Brooklyn program were 67 percent less likely to return to prison.
Graduates also were 31/2 times more likely to have a job after they left the program than before they went in, the study found.
The program was developed by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes and offered to addicts who had repeatedly sold drugs but had committed no violent crimes. Hynes said was trying to ``break the cycle'' of crime and prison for addicts.
The treatment program ``repairs the social fabric which drugs has torn apart,'' said Hynes. ``It is fiscally and morally indefensible to send people to jail for their addiction.''
The concept is to force addicts to see treatment through, with the ever-present threat of being sent back to jail if they fail. More than 1,700 addicts have gone through the program. The average participant has been arrested five times and served about four years in prison.
Suspects can be eligible if they have sold drugs repeatedly, have not been convicted of a violent crime and are facing mandatory prison time. The 15- to 24-month program includes treatment, counseling and job training in a strict environment designed to instill self-discipline.
It costs about $33,000 to send an offender through the treatment program, compared with about $64,000 to send an offender to prison for the same period, the study said.
To enter the program, a prospect must plead guilty to a felony, knowing that dropping out of the program will mean prison time. Successful completion of the program removes the guilty plea from the participant's record.
Califano argued that for states facing budget problems, similar treatment programs can save a great deal of money.
On the Net:
Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse: http://www.casacolumbia.org
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