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"Hard Data" Pours In - Mandatory Sentencing Doesn't Work

 There is no denying that drug abuse can devastate an individual, his or her family and society at large. We do not argue that. Our argument is this:

o Does the war on drugs effectively deal with drug abuse in America?

o Are mandatory sentences reducing the availability of drugs?

o Do long prison sentences address drug addiction?

The "hard data" that Congress promised to study when it became available is pouring in. The answer to the questions raised above is a clear and resounding, "No!"

Use quotes from these studies and appeal to your state and federal representatives. It is time to reform our drug laws. It is time to end the drug war and adopt sane and rational policies that are proven to work.

As long as we spend billions of dollars a year on the drug war, there will be no money for treatment and education. Our nation has adopted drug policies that punish and destroy. Tell your lawmakers it is time for compassion and healing - we cannot afford the drug war.

Our inner cities have been virtually destroyed by black market drug trade. Harsher punishment only drives up the price and profits skyrocket. We need drug treatment and education - not prison. We need investment that will promote viable, legal enterprise to replace the black market drug trade. We need it now. 

Dr. James A. Inciardi, "A Corrections-Based Continuum of Effective Drug Abuse Treatment," National Institute of Justice Research Preview, June 1996

The findings indicate that 18 months after release drug offenders who received 12-15 months of treatment in prison followed by an additional 6 months of drug treatment and job training were more than twice as likely to be drug free than offenders who received prison-based treatment alone. Furthermore, offenders who received both forms of treatment were much more likely than offenders who received only prison-based treatment to be arrest free 18 months after release (71% compared with 48 %). Only 30% of a comparison group was arrest free after 18 months.

Douglas S. Lipton, "The Effectiveness of Treatment for Drug Abusers Under Criminal Justice Supervision," National Inst. of Justice Research Report, November 1995.

An evaluation of the New York prison-based Therapeutic Community (TC) (known as Stay'n Out) conducted in 1984 showed that male participants had arrest rates of only 26% compared to 40.9% for those having no treatment, and 39.8% for those having only counseling. Programs like Stay'n Out cost about $3,000-$4,000 more than standard correctional costs per year.

An evaluation of Oregon's TC (known as Cornerstone) showed that 71% of its graduates stayed out of prison for 3 years, while only 26% of the dropouts from the program did so.

The most serious drug users are responsible for a high volume of predatory crime. Without intervention, this group will return to crime and drug use 9 times out of 10 after release, and most will be back in custody within 3 years. With appropriate intervention provided for a sufficient duration, more than 3 out of 4 will succeed; that is, reenter the community and subsequently lead a socially acceptable life.

C. J. Hynes and S. A. Powers, "Drug Treatment Alternative To Prison of the Kings County District Attorney, Fifth Annual Report of Operations, Oct. 1994 to Oct. 1995."

The Brooklyn, NY Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison (DTAP) program, diverts prison-bound felony drug offenders to residential drug treatment for 15 to 24 months. The 19% recidivism rate for DTAP's graduates, in contrast to a 6% rate for similar defendants who did not participate in the program, is the most recent evidence of DTAP's success.

Rydell and Everinham, "Controlling Cocaine supply vs. Demand Programs," RAND 1994

A RAND study concluded that drug treatment programs are seven times more cost-effective in reducing cocaine consumption than other programs that aim at controlling the supply of drugs. The study further concluded that drug treatment could reduce cocaine consumption by a third if extended to all heavy users.

Report of the Unified Court Systems Committee on Alternative sanctions, December 1996.

The Brooklyn Treatment Alternatives to Street Crime (TASC) program places second felony drug offenders into residential drug treatment, usually for 18 to24 months. After 3 years, the re-arrest rates for offenders who completed the program in 1991 and 1992 was 6.7 % and 8.2%.

"Longitudinal Study finds Lower Re-arrest Rates in AIP," State of Connecticut Judicial Branch Sanctions Update, May 1996 Special Edition.

This study measured how offenders from each sample get arrested relative to the days they are actually in the community. In this way, the number of days offenders in each sample have the opportunity to be arrested for new crimes is kept the same. The rates for AIP and DOC are then compared to one another to produce a ratio.

Drug offenders under 21: AIP graduates had 3 arrests for every 10 arrests in the DOC sample.

Drug offenders with conviction histories: AIP graduates had 3 arrests for every 8 arrests in the DOC sample. These AIP clients had less than one arrest for felonies for every two felony arrests of offenders in the DOC comparison group.

"Preventing Crime. What Works, What Doesn't, What's Promising," A Report To The U.S. Congress, University of Maryland, for the U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.

" Substantial scientific evidence shows that drug treatment is an effective method of reducing both drug use and crime by these offenders. Furthermore, the criminal justice system can coerce offenders to remain in treatment longer. The longer they stay in treatment the better they do later, and those who are coerced do as well as comparisons who volunteer for treatment. One advantage of Drug Courts is that the court can oversee and supervise the coordination of the treatment and the community restraint."

"As with Drug Courts, the prison-based substance abuse programs appear to be a promising way to reduce the drug use and associated criminal activities of offenders, once they leave prison. In general, the studies of in-prison therapeutic community programs demonstrated that such programs reduced the recidivism rates of offenders once they were released."

"Cost Effectiveness of Mandatory Minimums," RAND study 1997.

Spending an additional $1 million on longer sentences for convicted dealers would reduce the nation's total consumption of cocaine by less than 29 pounds a year. The same $1 million on treating heavy cocaine users would cut consumption by as much as 220 pounds. For every crime eliminated by X dollars on mandatory minimum sentences, 15-17 crimes are eliminated by spending that same amount on treatment of heavy users.

J. P. Caulkins, C. P. Rydell, W. Schwabe, and J. Chiesa, "Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences: Throwing Away The Key Or The Taxpayer's Money?"

RAND Study - Spending the money on mandatory minimum sentences for drug dealers can reduce total national cocaine consumption by 13 kg. Spending it on conventional enforcement against such dealers cuts use by 27 kg. Spending it to treat heavy users reduces consumption by over 100 kg. Treatment reduces about 10 times more serious crime then conventional enforcement and 15 times more than mandatory minimums.

D.R. Gerstein, R.A. Johnson, H.J. Harwood, D.Fountain, N. Suter, and K. Malloy, "Evaluating Recovery Services: The California Drug and Alcohol Treatment Assessment (CALDATA)," Calif. Dept. of Alcohol and Drug Programs, Sacramento, CA, 1994.

Treatment can generate a seven to one return on investment (mostly due to reduction in crime). Illegal drug use by participants dropped by 40% as a result of treatment. Hospitalization rates dropped by a third after treatment. The greater the time spent in treatment, the greater the reduction in individual criminal activity.

"Preliminary Report: The Persistent Effects of Substance Abuse Treatment One Year Later," Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, The National Treatment Improvement Evaluation Study, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Rockville, MD, September 1996.

Clients reported reducing drug use by about 50% in the year following treatment. Reports of arrest decreased from 48.2 to 17.2 percent comparing the year before with the year following treatment. Substance abuse-related medical visits decreased by more than 50 percent and in-patient mental health visits by more than 25 percent after treatment. So, too, did risk indicators of sexually-transmitted diseases. Following treatment, employment rates increased while homelessness and welfare receipts both decreased.

C. Peter Rydell and Susan S. Everingham, "Controlling Cocaine: Supply versus Demand Programs," A joint study by the RAND Corp., the U.S. Army, and the Office of National Drug Control Strategy.

This study found that treatment is seven times more effective than local enforcement, eleven times more effective than border interdiction, and twenty-two times more effective than trying to control foreign production.

Our thanks to CURE-NY for compliling this information, and to Western Massachusetts Prison Issues Group (WMPIG) for forwarding it to us.

CURE-NY P.O. Box 102, Katonah, NY, 10536. Further information can be found on the internet at:

Western Massachusetts Prison Issues Group (WMPIG) o PO Box 9606, North Amherst, MA 01059 Publishers of Prison Connections, a quarterly newsletter of prison activism in New England (USA)

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