Pubdate: Thu, 07 Feb 2002
Source: Gainesville Sun, The (FL)
Copyright: 2002 The Gainesville Sun
Author: Paul H. Brown
Bookmark: (Treatment)


The Sun's editorial of January 30 regarding reduced funding for prisoners' 
drug treatment is, in my view, a call for reason in times of rash and hasty 
policy making on the part of our Legislature.

Those who are unaware of the facts surrounding the current and proposed 
future cuts might assume (erroneously) that it is the Florida Department of 
Corrections that is making these cuts. The fact is, the Legislature already 
cut these funds in the December special session.

The immediate impact on this area that includes Alachua, Gilchrist, 
Bradford, Dixie, Lafayette, Union and Marion counties was to cause the loss 
of more than 70 private sector jobs. These were professional 
substance-abuse counselors and support staff that were employed by a number 
of companies and/or agencies to service long-term Department of Corrections 
contracts for these substance-abuse services.

If the loss of 70-plus jobs and the resulting serious personal and 
financial impacts were the only negative outcomes from all of this, it 
should have caused significant alarm to this community. The fact is, the 
total synergistic negative impact of these prison substance-abuse program 
cuts will not be fully realized or felt for many months - long after the 
current Legislative session is over and the 2002-2003 fiscal budget is in 

Florida refers to the state prison system as "Department of Corrections." 
What is to correct with the loss of educational, vocational and 
substance-abuse treatment programs? With court and prison commitment 
statistics indicating that a full 29 percent of all prison incarcerations 
are for drug-or alcohol-related crimes, it is undeniable that the root 
cause of this criminality is caused by addiction, alcoholism and chemical 
dependency. Other criminal justice sources suggest that the proximate cause 
of between 82 percent and 87 percent of all felony crimes, especially 
property crimes such as burglary and theft, is attributable to substance abuse.

Prisoners are serving longer and longer sentences, in part due to public 
sentiment, and changes in law and public policy. The opportunity to impact 
this incarcerated population with effective treatment is best accomplished 
while the offender is in custody and presumably drug-free.

Offenders who enter prison with a chemical-dependency problem that is left 
untreated are destined to return to their addictive behaviors, and 
eventually will return to prison. It has been estimated that an active 
drug-dependent offender commits two to three felony property crimes daily 
to support their habit.

Statistics have repeatedly and consistently proven that substance-abuse 
programs in prison produce significant and cost-effective reductions in 
recidivism. It is substantially more cost-effective to treat a drug 
offender while in prison and return the offender to society drug-free than 
it is to allow the "revolving-door" syndrome to create repeat felony 
offenders who become institutionalized.

The net result of this policy is that the citizens of Florida assume the 
cost and burden of supporting the offenders' dependents, as well as the 
offenders' long-term incarceration.

PAUL H. BROWN, Melrose
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