An Interview with Sheila Balkan: Criminologist and Court Consultant

Posted on July 19th, 2010

Addiction often leads people to become involved with the court system—through a DUI, forging prescriptions, or other situations that stem from the desperation that can surround drug and alcohol addiction. It can be incredibly difficult to face the many adverse elements of addiction when you are not only accountable to yourself and your family, but also to the court system. At Promises Treatment Centers, that’s where Dr. Sheila Balkan steps in.

A criminologist with 30 years of experience who works as a sentencing consultant in state and federal courts across the country, Sheila has been collaborating with Promises for many years, helping clients who may need guidance when faced with the consequences of breaking the law. Because simply sending addicts to prison doesn’t work—incarceration doesn’t address the complex underlying causes of drug addiction—Sheila is a strong advocate of providing her clients with comprehensive drug addiction treatment, first in a residential setting such as Promises and then in an outpatient program.

With a doctorate from UCLA in sociology and criminology, Sheila researched the field of crime for many years and taught at the college level. In 1980, she started her own practice, in which she identifies the human factors that are relevant to sentencing decisions. After investigating clients’ backgrounds, social histories, and offense conduct, Sheila specifies the particular issues that may have led to criminal conduct and presents an opportunity for treatment. Addiction is a common problem among her clients, so she is very familiar with the recovery process.

Sheila also strongly believes that being of service to the community is an important part of being in recovery. “Accountability is an essential part of redemption. People in recovery, even those in early recovery, can regain their sense of self-worth by giving back to the community,” she explained. “A person struggling with addiction doesn’t have a great deal of self-confidence, and one way to help them overcome that is to show them how valuable they can be to people who are struggling in other ways.”

At Promises, Sheila recently founded the “SHINE” program, which allows clients and alumni to volunteer as a group once a month as an introduction to being of service. Once clients graduate from residential treatment to the Outpatient Program or the alumni group, they can fill out an application online to participate on a regular basis. Many Promises clients are rewarded by seeing what these small gestures mean to people who don’t have much.

When placing clients with non-profit organizations in the community, Sheila looks at their strengths, talents, and interests in an attempt to find the best match. Often times, clients stay involved with the organization long after their court case or treatment is over because the experience is so fulfilling.

“We do our best to match clients with a non-profit program that fits their background, skills, and interests,” Sheila explains. “For example, we had some clients who had a creative background, so we sent them to a low-income housing facility where they helped mothers and children learn more about grooming, clothing, home decorating, and more. We had another group—under the wonderful direction of Tracey Simmons—help build a children’s library in a low-income housing area. Some people want to work with veterans or the homeless, and others prefer to work behind the scenes with administration or fundraising. We’re very interested in getting new ideas for ways to help.”

Sheila has steadily referred clients to Promises for many years. She says, “The staff at Promises really cares. They identify with clients while remaining very professional and providing a wonderful family environment and strong support network.”

To learn more about the SHINE program, visit http://www.promisesalumni.com/shine/.

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