Pubdate: Tue, 04 Jun 2002
Source: Plain Dealer, The (OH)
Copyright: 2002 The Plain Dealer
Author: Kathleen J. Farkas
Note: Farkas is an associate professor at the Mandel School of Applied 
Social Sciences, Case Western Reserve University.


The Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities may curry 
favor with the Taft administration by not supporting the ballot initiative 
requiring treatment instead of jail for first- and second- time drug 
offenders (Plain Dealer, May 29). But its decision will not change the fact 
that Ohio's jails, courts and prisons are stressed to capacity by the 
criminal prosecution and harsh sentencing of nonviolent, low-level drug 

Many of these people are sentenced to prison without benefit of 
substance-abuse treatment. Even when a judge orders treatment, programs are 
scarce and not available on demand. The minimum average wait for 
substance-abuse treatment for inmates at the Cuyahoga County Corrections 
Center is four to six weeks after sentencing. For inmates who have 
substance abuse problems and psychiatric illnesses, the wait is often longer.

If Gov. Bob Taft is concerned about the state's tight budget, he may want 
to review the estimates of the costs of incarceration versus treatment. The 
Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections Web site lists the annual 
average cost per inmate as $22,045. In 1998, the Physician Leadership on 
National Drug Policy estimated that annual individual treatment costs 
ranged from $1,800 for traditional outpatient treatment to $6,800 a year 
for residential drug treatment. Even if these costs had doubled in the past 
four years, treatment would be far less expensive than incarceration.

The proposed ballot initiative to amend the Ohio Constitution may not 
provide sufficient legislative or judicial flexibility. But it is a way for 
voters to tell Taft that they are tired of spending tax dollars on the 
incarceration of nonviolent substance abusers and want more treatment 
options in their communities.

Kathleen J. Farkas

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