Pubdate: Tue, 14 Nov 2006
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2006 The Sun-Times Co.
Author: Melody M. Heaps


Drug-involved offenders continue to cycle through the state's prisons
at an enormous cost to taxpayers and communities ["Jailing drug
convicts costs us billions; Study urges options to 'revolving door,' "
news story, Oct. 31]. Illinois taxpayers spend an estimated $240
million per year to house individuals convicted of nonviolent drug
offenses, according to the Crime and Justice report released last
month by Chicago Metropolis 2020. The fundamental problem is that
Illinois sends thousands of nonviolent, drug-involved offenders to
prison when there are more effective and cost-efficient alternatives

For example, the Cook County State's Attorney Drug School reduces drug
abuse-linked recidivism. Only 11 percent of the State's Attorney Drug
School participants who receive substance abuse treatment care were
re-arrested within a year, contrasted to 55 percent who failed to
finish the program.

Moreover, supervised substance abuse treatment is far more cost
effective than incarceration. Treatment costs range from $3,100 to
$12,500 per year, in contrast to the average Illinois incarceration
cost of $20,929 per adult inmate per year, excluding the prison
building costs.

Unfortunately, the ability of effective programs like the State's
Attorney Drug School, other intensive substance abuse treatment
services and community-based support that provide housing and job
training to reduce recidivism significantly is limited because they
are habitually under-funded by local, state and federal

Substance abuse treatment is a tested and proven strategy that can
block an individual from entering a life of crime and prison. These
"no entry" to prison policies -- drug school, supervised substance
abuse treatment, and community-based support -- can undermine habitual
drug-linked recidivism. If Illinois were to divert another 1,000
nonviolent offenders with substance abuse problems from prison to
supervised treatment alternatives, the state would conservatively save
almost $8.5 million. The solution seems simple.

Melody M. Heaps, president, TASC Inc.

(Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities), Near North Side
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