Inmates to be required to enter rehab programs Addiction treatment, boot camp for some

October 28, 1997|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Kate Shatzkin contributed to this article.

In an effort to bolster participation in $6.7 million worth of prisoner rehabilitation projects, the state plans to require inmates who qualify to enroll in its boot camp and addictions programs beginning Saturday.

The decision is partly to help fill vacant beds in the state's military-style boot camp for inmates. Fewer than half of the 458 beds at the $5.5 million boot camp are occupied, and on average, 25 percent of those who enroll drop out, according to Division of Correction officials.

The state also has a 550-bed drug program, called the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment Program, that was established for this fiscal year, which began July 1. That program received $1.26 million -- half for this fiscal year and half for fiscal year 1999, according to the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Those who don't participate in the programs would lose the credits earned for good behavior, work or school that allow them early releases.

"I think the taxpayers will be happy about this," Richard A. Lanham, commissioner for the Division of Correction, said of the new requirements. "I'm proud of this. We have empty beds, why not use them? It doesn't cost any more money."

Nancy Moran, an advocate for inmates' rights, said she believed the decision for required drug treatment is "a step in the right direction" because it could help free some from their addictions.

Moran said she is concerned, however, about the 25 percent dropout rate of inmates in the boot camp.

The requirements were distributed in a recent memorandum, obtained by The Sun, to staff of the Division of Correction.

Programs such as drug treatment and boot camp have been key components of the state's efforts to free prison beds for violent offenders. Both are components of the state's Correctional Options Program, which gives inmates an alternative to prison time.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who leads the state's criminal justice efforts, said the new requirement fit into her belief that the state should be tougher on criminals.

"Some people would prefer not to get involved in the options because it forces them to change their behavior," Townsend said.

"They would rather stay in prison," she added. "We're no longer going to allow that to be an option. We are demanding change."

In general, inmates who have nonviolent histories, including those convicted of drug possession and petty theft, and those without outstanding warrants or detainers have been given the option to volunteer for these programs.

But with the voluntary approach, only 164 of the 458 beds at the boot camp are occupied. Recently, 58 inmates dropped out of the program and are awaiting bed space in a prison.

In a survey in May, 201 inmates were evaluated for boot camp participation.

Of those, 143 were deemed eligible. Then 91 refused to participate.

Correction officials plan to require all those who qualify to participate or strip them of their good-time credits.

"Our assumption is that once offenders realize that they are going to have diminution credits removed they will have new-found cooperation," said Leonard A. Sipes, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Sipes said that many people find it difficult to commit to the boot camp because of the strict regimentation or to enroll in drug treatment because substance abuse has long been a part of their lives.

"The thing that frightens them the most is facing their own five-, 10-, 15-year drug habits," Sipes said.

Pub Date: 10/28/97

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