Fight crime with drug tests Break the Cycle: Aim is to reach addicts on parole before they steal to feed their habit.

December 06, 1997

CRIME RATES are falling across the nation, in part because some common-sense approaches are finally being used. Take for instance, Maryland's Break the Cycle program announced this week. It will require convicted felons on probation or parole to submit to drug tests as often as twice a week.

Any beat patrolman knows the bulk of burglaries and robberies involves addicts who need cash to pay for their habit. Most have been in trouble with the law before, many are still on probation or parole. If addiction is at the root of their criminality, society would be better off treating their addiction.

But first you have to find out about it. Simply requiring those on probation or parole to attend drug treatment sessions has had spotty results. Drug testing isn't as frequent as it should be and failures of urinalyses often aren't reported to penal authorities swiftly. The Break the Cycle program will be more stringent. Testing will be more frequent and the possibility of punishment more certain.

The program is aimed at the 25,000 drug users who are on probation or parole in Maryland. Similar programs are already under way in the District of Columbia and Oregon. One Oregon county reported a 76 percent drop in the number of persons on probation who tested positive for drugs. And Washington authorities say half as many participants in its program return to prison compared to those not regularly tested for drugs and punished for violations.

The Maryland program mirrors steps required by federal drug legislation Congress passed last year. Ours will be the first to apply the drug-testing rules statewide. Each jurisdiction of the state is to develop its own individual program by April for implementation by July. Those not in compliance could lose state funds. It will be expensive to do so much drug testing and incarcerate those who fail. But the benefit of reduced crime is well worth that price.

Pub Date: 12/06/97

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