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PLN quoted in article re cuts to prison counseling programs

Associated Press, Jan. 1, 2010.
PLN quoted in article re cuts to prison counseling programs - Associated Press 2010

Apr 15, 6:27 PM EDT

Budget problems forcing prisons to cut counseling


Associated Press Writers

DALLAS (AP) -- When John Patrick Barton was in prison on his third drunken driving conviction, he was not among the thousands of inmates nationwide who undergo alcohol and drug treatment behind bars each year.

Fifteen months later and out of prison, Barton is accused of driving drunk again. This time, authorities say he plowed his car into another, killing a woman and her teenage daughter in a Dallas suburb on Easter.

Barton's case has turned into a rallying cry in Texas, where state officials have proposed slashing more than $23 million from in-prison treatment programs. These types of programs - many already stretched thin - are increasingly endangered as shrinking budgets force several states to consider cuts to treatment for drug users, drunken drivers and sex offenders.

Though Barton was never ordered to undergo alcohol treatment after his third drunken driving offense, those opposed to the proposed cuts to the nation's second largest prison system are using his case as an example of what they fear will happen if treatment programs are trimmed.

"People say, 'How can you afford to (fund) this?'" said Texas Sen. John Whitmire, chair of the senate's criminal justice committee. "My comeback is, 'How can you afford not to?'"

Studies have shown offenders with substance abuse problems are more likely to return to prison without treatment. Yet only 11 percent of the nation's inmates with substance abuse problems receive treatment during incarceration, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

Several states have already decided to reduce in-prison treatment programs that are often required as a condition of parole and can sometimes lead to early release from prison. In some cases, experts say, offenders may end up serving more of their prison sentence if budget cuts make it difficult to receive treatment.

In Kansas, for example, budget cuts gutted the system's treatment and support services. Sixteen substance abuse counselors were cut, and the budget for program, treatment and support services funding dropped from more than $12 million in the 2009 fiscal year to about $5 million in the 2010 fiscal year.

"Our concern is that this will make it more difficult for inmates to put together valid release plans and will increase the probability that they will be unable to comply with conditions of their release or reoffend at a higher rate," said Kansas Secretary of Corrections Roger Werholtz. "We're just real nervous."

In Pennsylvania, reductions to alcohol-treatment programs have created a backlog of inmates waiting for drug and alcohol counseling required before receiving parole. At the Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility in Iowa, a shrinking corrections budget forced the layoffs of eight of the facility's 12 counselors, who treat some 600 sex offenders. Prison officials estimate about 40 will not receive treatment.

The number of inmates receiving treatment for substance abuse in California also has dropped. The state overhauled its in-prison treatment system in recent years, cutting 80 percent of its substance abuse contract counselors amid a shrinking budget and complaints that programs were wasteful. The budget for in-prison treatment programs also shrank this year, dropping by about 17 percent from 2009.

Bob May, associate director of the Association of State Correctional Administrators, said prison systems nationwide are eliminating treatment programs because of budget constraints.

"When inmates are busy, they're not getting into bad things," May said. "Programming is good and helps build responsibility and accountability."

Treatment programs are the latest in cuts to inmate services that began two decades ago, said Paul Wright, the editor and executive director of Prison Legal News, an advocacy journal for inmates.

"The first thing they cut is education - they did that in the '90s," Wright said. "The next thing (was) food, and the only thing that's left is the treatment programs. It's the same story all over the place, and it's a really shortsighted thing."

Earlier this year in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry ordered every state agency to slash 5 percent from their budgets.

To comply, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice came up with $294 million in proposed reductions, which includes $23 million directly from treatment programs in prison. Prison officials and others including Whitmire are asking that at least some of the programs be exempt from the cuts.

The effects, according to state figures, would be considerable. About 1,300 fewer inmates would receive substance abuse treatment and 2,000 fewer probationers would get substance abuse counseling. Substance abuse treatment for inmates is not required by law in Texas. Instead, prison officials determine who qualifies, and the Board of Pardons and Parole can designate some inmates for treatment.

In Barton's case, he was released on parole in January 2009 after serving a 10-month sentence, court records show. He was not ordered to undergo pretrial alcohol counseling and no prison official sent him to treatment as a condition of parole.

He now faces two counts of murder after the April 4 crash and remains jailed on $1 million bond. He declined an interview and his attorney did not return a voicemail message. The family of the victims didn't return a call requesting an interview.

"We had him locked up twice, and he never got a day of treatment," said Whitmire, the Texas state senator. "It ought to be against the law for the state of Texas to lock somebody up for drinking and driving and not have them in a treatment program."


Duara reported from Iowa City, Iowa. Associated Press Writer Don Thompson in Sacramento, Calif., contributed to this report.

(This version corrects Kansas prison treatment funding example to say that funding dropped from more than $12 million in the 2009 fiscal year to about $5 million in the 2010.)



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