Magazine article Corrections Today

Substance Abuse Diversion Program Earns High Marks

Magazine article Corrections Today

Substance Abuse Diversion Program Earns High Marks

Article excerpt

There is a growing awareness that incarcerating offenders with drug problems does not work and that there are other reasonable responses to drug abuse.

In a new book, The Making of a Drug Free America and Programs That Work, Mathea Falco makes the case that the "law enforcement only" strategy is expensive and ineffective. She argues for regaining balance in our approach to drug users by re-emphasizing education and treatment. Falco explores the effectiveness of community programs, ranging from anti-drug education and treatment to grass roots action against drug dealers.

Falco is not the only person promoting alternatives to incarceration. During an address to state legislators attending a Council of State Governments Conference in Des Moines, Iowa, in December, Jeffrey Tauber, a municipal court judge from Oakland, Calif., asked, "How can we afford to incarcerate people when we know we can do a better job in the community?"

Judge Tauber described the Oakland Drug Diversion Project, a program with statutory authority. Offenders are placed in the program after a diversionary hearing and remain in it for six months to two years. The program is nonresidential and, through contingency contracts, an offender's sentence can be ended if he or she completes the treatment program. This approach is used as an incentive to participate in the treatment regime.

The program is based on the idea that coercive treatment works and that progressive sanctions are appropriate mechanisms for dealing with drug abusers. Judge Tauber said the program's success depends on acknowledging the following:

* the realities of addiction;

* the need for relapse counseling as part of the program;

* the importance of reaching people when they are in crisis; and

* the need to achieve positive results to ensure the program's integrity.

Several important lessons have been learned from operating the program:

1. …

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