Healthcare :: Prison Drug Treatment to Curb Record Crime

With violent crime rates reaching a 15 year record high and most prisoners testing positive for drugs, the new Congress must expand drug treatment in prisons, said Bob Weiner, former spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Weiner, together with policy analyst Richard Bangs, points out, “Prison drug treatment will target the repeating source of a huge chunk of the nation’s new crime wave,” in the Sunday December 17th, 2006 edition of the Buffalo News. They argue that a 34 percent federal drug prevention budget cut since 2001, from $19.2 billion to $12.7 billion, is a major explanation for the 2.5 percent violent crime increase nationwide, and 3.4 percent increase in Buffalo, NY in 2005. Buffalo is also near the world famous Attica correctional facility, and an Attica staff member told Weiner that “Attica is not a drug-specific prison.” Say Weiner and Bangs: “That’s the problem. All prisons should be; none is.”

Weiner and Bangs note that according to DOJ statistics, 68 percent of female and 67 percent of male arrestees tested positive for illegal narcotics compared to 6 percent use in the population as a whole. Yet only 14 percent of federal inmates who met the criteria for drug dependency received treatment from a trained professional, and only 39 percent of all drug dependent inmates participated in drug programs.

Weiner and Bangs state, “A rising tide of abuse of prescription drugs has exacerbated the problem and the need for action.” They report “a tripling over the last five years in abuse of opiate painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Dilaudid, Codeine, Morphine and Fentanyl.”

The writers affirm benefits of drug treatment and prevention: “Nine months after beginning therapy, 87 percent of patients treated for heavy or long-term methamphetamine abuse in California outpatient and residential programs were abstinent from all drugs,” and nationally, “every $1 invested in addiction treatment programs yields a return of between $4 and $7 in reduced drug-related crime, criminal justice costs, and theft.”

Weiner and Bangs note the $10 million contribution to drug treatment by philanthropist George Soros. The authors conclude, “Once upon a time the United States criminal justice system, not philanthropists, made criminal rehabilitation a fiscal responsibility.”

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