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California Inspector General: $1 Billion In DOC Drug Treatment Program “A Complete Waste Of Money”

California Inspector General: $1 Billion In DOC Drug Treatment Program "A Complete Waste Of Money"

by Marvin Mentor

California's Inspector General Matthew Cate issued a scathing 52-page report in February 2007 which concluded that the $1 billion that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has spent on prisoner drug treatment programs since 1989 was a "complete waste of money." Cate determined that CDCR's in-prison substance abuse programs "have little or no impact on recidivism." One study showed that "treated" prisoners actually had a higher recidivism rate. Over twenty studies commissioned by CDCR since 1997, including with the University of California at Los Angeles, reported that the programs were failing. Nonetheless, CDCR allegedly did nothing to fix the problems, but instead expanded the programs while funding yet more studies.

Cate, who heads the non-partisan independent agency responsible for oversight of the state's correctional system, firmly believes in the concept of correctional drug programs. "Successful treatment programs could reduce the cost to society of criminal activity related to drug abuse, change lives, and help relieve the state's prison overcrowding crisis." In short, with the state facing potential federal court takeover of CDCR due to overcrowding, the need for drug addiction rehabilitation looms ever larger as a social mandate. Governor Schwarzenegger reacted swiftly to Cate's report by reorganizing CDCR's program and installing Kathryn Jett as head of the new Division of Addiction and Recovery Services.

One in five CDCR prisoners is serving time for a drug offense, and over one-half of the 172,000 state prisoners need drug treatment, Cate observed. From this he concluded that effective interdiction in the prisons is the most direct path to breaking the endless cycle of both drug use and the resultant incarceration. To this end, CDCR's Office of Substance Abuse Programs had spent $143 million per year -- $36 million of which was used annually to treat prisoners and parolees via 38 privately contracted operations at 22 prisons. These programs have the capacity to treat about 9,200 prisoners; 78,000 have been treated since 1989.

But it is how the programs are administered that foretells their potential success. Cate found that while CDCR's "therapeutic community" treatment model required participants to be in a separate environment from other prisoners, this did not happen. Because participants were regularly co-mingled with non-participants, treatment was interrupted by security procedures that often shut down the programs. Cate laid the resultant ineffectiveness to "poor management" by CDCR and its substance abuse program office. He was further infuriated by CDCR's continued willingness to pay for ever more studies of the program while abjectly failing to fix the problems identified therein.

In his audit, Cate found that CDCR failed to hold its program providers accountable for meeting contract terms and for not properly isolating program attendees from the prison population. He further found abuses in the bidding process that violated state contracting law. CDCR's Substance Abuse Program office mismanaged the contracts by encouraging inappropriate spending and violation of CDCR's own budget policies. The Program office further did not establish a quality improvement process.

Cate once personally explained to this writer that California's Inspector General serves to oversee -but not to direct - the CDCR. Yet, in today's rare moment of advocacy, Cate opened up. "The goal should be nothing short of making California a leader in addressing the crippling problem of criminal activity related to chronic substance abuse and its far-reaching implications for public safety and societal well-being." He added that policymakers "beyond the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation" should rebuild the correctional system "from the ground up."

In this regard, this writer has in the past asked Cate to advocate for CDCR's "goals" to be restructured so as to become the object of financial incentives. That is, instead of being paid endless sums to fund a bureaucracy whose rewards lie in its self-preservation, the persons responsible for achieving "correction" and "rehabilitation" should instead be rewarded based upon hard evidence that specified objective goals were achieved. But "correction" and "rehabilitation" are not even defined in state statute or CDCR regulation. Moreover, although Cate's latest report doesn't mention it, CDCR has no stated goal regarding drug treatment as to how many prisoners it will ever turn around, let alone does CDCR have a narrative of what would constitute a "turn-around."

Unless and until CDCR defines tangible measures of population-reducing program success, and its staff is then held personally and financially accountable for achieving them, this writer believes that the only "success" realized will be the self-perpetuation of the existing bureaucracy. See: Special Review Into In-Prison Substance
Abuse Programs Managed by CDCR, Office of the California Inspector General, February 21, 2007. The report is on the PLN website.

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