Monday, December 29, 2008

Holiday Perusings

I know most of you reading have time off right now, so rather than filling your brains with mush and entertainment, how about some "light" reading on prison reform, drug rehabilitation and sex offenders?

Senator Sets Site On Prison Reforms:

This spring, Jim Webb (D-Va.) plans to introduce legislation on a long-standing passion of his: reforming the U.S. prison system. Jails teem with young black men who later struggle to rejoin society, he says. Drug addicts and the mentally ill take up cells that would be better used for violent criminals. And politicians have failed to address this costly problem for fear of being labeled "soft on crime."

It is a gamble for Webb, a fiery and cerebral Democrat from a staunchly law-and-order state. Virginia abolished parole in 1995, and it trails only Texas in the number of people it has executed. Moreover, as the country struggles with two wars overseas and an ailing economy, overflowing prisons are the last thing on many lawmakers' minds.

Actually, not so. Corrections budgets, which are bursting at the seems after 20+ years of over-crowding due to silly and punitive laws such as Three Strikes, are now under the budget axe in many states. As predicted here on this blog and over the years in the classroom, the hangover for the imprisonment binge would eventually come, and when it did it wouldn't be pretty.

Nice to see at least one major politician try and reverse the trend in favor of sanity, but we'll see if he can ultimately remove crime, imprisonment and political capital from our political milieu.

Then there's this story, from the "who woulda thunk it?" file.

Laws To Track Sex Offenders Encouraging Homelessness:

Strict new laws aimed at keeping track of sex offenders after they leave prison appear to be having the opposite effect, encouraging homelessness in a population believed more likely to re-offend if cast into the streets without structure or family support, say prosecutors, police, parole officials and experts on managing sex offenders.
Again, as I've argued on this blog and in class, the last thing you want to do with a population which has such a serious problem as sex offending and pedophilia is drive them underground, away from public view, where they are more likely to re-offend. But as with the post above regarding imprisonment and political capital, sex offenders make for great fodder in our political process.

This is why we end up with slipshod "get tough" measures such as sex offender registries, which pass with very little evidence or support to back up their claims of success. Only later do we find out what a joke these programs are, but by then the "facts" are irrelevant.

Speaking of "facts" and "irrelevant", I particularly enjoyed this story last week.

Drug Rehabilitation or Revolving Door?

Every year, state and federal governments spend more than $15 billion, and insurers at least $5 billion more, on substance-abuse treatment services for some four million people. That amount may soon increase sharply: last year, Congress passed the mental health parity law, which for the first time includes addiction treatment under a federal law requiring that insurers cover mental and physical ailments at equal levels.

Many clinics across the county have waiting lists, and researchers estimate that some 20 million Americans who could benefit from treatment do not get it.

Yet very few rehabilitation programs have the evidence to show that they are effective. The resort-and-spa private clinics generally do not allow outside researchers to verify their published success rates. The publicly supported programs spend their scarce resources on patient care, not costly studies.

And the field has no standard guidelines. Each program has its own philosophy; so, for that matter, do individual counselors. No one knows which approach is best for which patient, because these programs rarely if ever track clients closely after they graduate. Even Alcoholics Anonymous, the best known of all the substance-abuse programs, does not publish data on its participants’ success rate.
Worse, the "treatment-industrial complex," which is also rampant in our nation's prisons and jails as well, routinely proffer treatments for all inmates when very few, in fact, can benefit from them.

Or as the old joke goes, how many shrinks does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the bulb has to be willing to change.

Obviously, to persons who want to change, drug rehab can be very effective. But when we attach counseling like this to mandatory conditions of probation, parole or even in prison itself, we are essentially throwing money down the drain and perpetuating, by failure, the very need for the program to begin with (in other words, persons who relapse are then used as "evidence" for more counseling programs). It's become a $20 billion a year vicious cycle which no one seems to be paying attention to.

On that happy note, Happy Holidays!

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