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Lack of Budget for Prison Rehab Programs Fails to Help Incarcerated Addicts

Thirty-year-old John Patrick Barton of Lewisville, Texas, had already been convicted three times for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) when he struck a family vehicle early Easter morning, killing 33-year-old mother Kandace Hull and her 13-year-old daughter Autumn Caudle, and injuring three other passengers including Hull’s husband. The repeat offender, having been released on parole from his most recent DUI conviction, was again driving under the influence. Barton has DUI convictions from 1997, 2006, and 2008; records show he was sentenced to three years in prison for his most recent conviction and paroled in early 2009 after serving a ten-month sentence.

Barton was hospitalized after his Easter crash and was initially charged with intoxication manslaughter. By Thursday April 15, a Denton County grand jury indicted Barton with two counts of murder and three counts of intoxication assault. Barton was transferred to county jail Friday on $1 million bail.

Despite his intoxication offenses, Barton was never ordered to undergo alcohol counseling, and no prison official has ever recommended him to recovery treatment as a condition of his parole. To many Texas legislators and criminal justice officials, not ordering prisoners convicted of intoxication charges to attend substance abuse treatment programs is ineffective and dangerous to society. Currently, it is not required by law in the state of Texas to order offenders to attend treatment programs or receive counseling for their substance abuse.

Texas legislators, criminal justice agencies, and the community at large have called on Barton’s case as an example of the effects caused by a struggling correctional system that faces $23 million in budget cuts for prison rehabilitation programming. Although statistics nationwide have proven in-prison treatment programs for substance abuse and sex offenses to be successful in rehabilitation outcome rates and costs, states across the country have cut large portions of the funding for these programs during the hard-hit economic recession. The consequences are staggering: the reliable treatment programs are becoming thinned out even more after having undergone previous budget cuts; programs are closing down or losing more substance abuse counselors, making remaining counselors and parole officers’ workloads unbearable; and thousands of addicted people who are ill-prepared to reenter society are sent back to the streets without any counseling, training, or support, and usually wind up right back in jail.

National studies have shown that criminal offenders with existing substance abuse problems have the highest potential for recidivism if they do not receive treatment. According to Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, $467.7 billion is spent annually by local, state, and federal governments for substance abuse-related criminal activity, including police staff, criminal investigation, incarceration, foster care, and health care. Only 1.9 percent of this amount ($7.2 billion) is spent on prevention and treatment programming. Even though scientific research has proven the efficacy and cost efficiency of intervention and prevention programming, the government still spends $59.83 on public programs for every $1 spent on prevention programming. Now due to the looming recession, states like Texas, Kansas, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and California are being forced to cut these programs even thinner, removing available mental health counseling, treatment, resources, and support services for substance abusing offenders. Criminals who are given treatment usually receive shorter sentences, maintain recovery, and avoid future jail time. However, less than 11 percent of incarcerated substance abusers are receiving rehabilitation treatment under current budget plans. With Texas facing an $18 billion deficit, Governor Rick Perry ordered $294 million dollars to be cut from Texas’ Department of Criminal Justice (a 5 percent reduction), with 8 percent being extracted from in-prison treatment programming.

Under these budget cuts, 1,346 fewer inmates would receive substance abuse treatment and about 2,000 fewer probationers would receive substance abuse counseling; even then, rehabilitation treatment is not mandatory for offenders, so only a select few will be recommended to existing treatment programs. Rehabilitation advocates are pushing to maintain some of Texas’ most effective in-prison treatment programs, like Bob May, Associate Director of the Association of State Correctional Administrators, Senator John Whitmire, who also chairs the Texas Criminal Justice Committee, and Department of Criminal Justice Spokesperson Michelle Lyons. To them, Barton’s criminal history illustrates the mishandling of DUI offenders in correctional facilities that excludes the implementation of a successful program with a positive track record. The threat of eliminating these programs poses extreme concerns for public safety and drastically increases the potential of recidivism among substance abusing offenders—which costs much more than the prevention treatment programs themselves.

Similarly, the state of Kansas was forced to reduce its annual $12.6 million in-prison substance abuse treatment programming, which set the standard for other states’ incarceration rehabilitation programs, to just $5.3 million. The state that ignited Congress’ implementation of “Second Chance” rehabilitation programming nationwide and had effectively reduced its recidivism rate by more than half is now sending 6,000 substance-abusing offenders into society without treatment or support.

California has also made significant cuts in its in-prison substance abuse treatment programs due to beliefs that the programming was ineffective, and is now facing harsh criticism from the public. More counselors are being dropped, more offenders are not receiving treatment, and more crimes are slipping through the cracks. After registered sex offender John Albert Gardner III was released early from prison and is now accused of murdering Chelsea King and Jaycee Dugard, the public is pleading with lawmakers to reform parole and supervision standards. California parole officers are so scarce that they are believed to be juggling an average of 150 criminal cases each. State Representative and Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Prison and Rehabilitation Reform Alberto Torrico is seeking solutions for California’s overpopulated prison system that has a 70 percent failure rate. Keeping offenders behind bars is costing taxpayers fortunes, and California is losing in-prison rehabilitation programming that would prevent recidivism and dramatically lower the incarceration costs. The more prevention is ignored, the further the cyclical problem expands.

Posted on April 16th, 2010

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