History of Drugs Found in 80% of Youth Offenders; Fewer Than 4% Treated for Abuse

Article excerpt

Byline: Cheryl Wetzstein, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Nearly 80 percent of young people who are arrested use illegal drugs or alcohol, but fewer than 4 percent receive substance abuse treatment, says a new study.

Joseph A. Califano, president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), said untreated substance abuse is likely to lead young people into lives of crime and adult prisons.

The juvenile justice system contributes to this outcome by acting more like "colleges of criminality" - exposing new offenders to hardened offenders - than places of rehabilitation, said Mr. Califano, a domestic policy official in the Johnson and Carter administrations.

Young offenders should be referred quickly to comprehensive programs that address drug and alcohol abuse, as well as problems such as learning disabilities or mental illness, said Mr. Califano, who suggested that effective treatment would cost $5,000 per youthful offender.

If such investments were made early in the lives of children and teens, billions of dollars would be saved in social costs, he added.

Faith-based programs are especially powerful in transforming youths, said Charles W. Colson, who spent seven months in prison on a Watergate-related felony and has visited 600 more prisons as part of his work with Prison Fellowship, the faith-based outreach program he founded.

Drugs permeate prison systems, Mr. Colson said, explaining that during his initial prison stint, "I always smelled marijuana burning." Decades of prison visits have revealed rampant drug trafficking among inmates.

Mentoring, counseling and treatment programs can break the cycle of drugs and crime, he added.

"Mr. Califano and I come from different political backgrounds," he said, referring to their years as powerful opponents in Democratic and Republican administrations. …