Few Convicts Get Treatment for Addictions

Few Convicts Get Treatment for Addictions
Posted by FoM on February 14, 2000 at 15:04:57 PT
By David Doege of the Journal Sentinel Staff
Source: JSOnline
Although 70% or more of the state's criminals have drug or alcohol addictions, most are getting little or no treatment when they are placed on probation in Milwaukee, even if it is court-ordered, according to probation agents.Appearing before a task force trying to find solutions for an overworked and underfinanced probation system in Milwaukee, agents have shared sorry tales of being routinely unable to get drug-addicted probationers into effective treatment programs.
Limits on state dollars to fund treatment and a long-running disagreement over whether the county should help provide it have left probationers waiting in long lines for inadequate treatment while their agents concoct creative ways to keep them clean.In addition, jail crowding, which only recently has eased, left agents unable to lock up probationers caught using drugs. Offenders often would not wind up in custody unless they committed a more serious crime, the agents told the Governor's Task Force to Enhance Probation."We, last Tuesday at our office, started an outpatient treatment group that lasts one hour," Charlotte Ithier, an agent in Milwaukee for 17 years, told the task force. There are 20 men with one counselor."Not a whole lot is going to be accomplished in that room," Ithier said. "It's simply too many people. And my guess is those men will keep coming because it's all they have. A lot of them are court-ordered into treatment. We really, at this point, we just don't have the ability to enforce the court order because we don't have any place to send them."Task force members say they long suspected that inadequate drug treatment was being provided to addicts on probation, but the agents' accounts have deepened their dismay."I was surprised at the extent to which the system is lacking in services," said Circuit Judge M. Joseph Donald, a task force member who presides in one of the county's three felony drug courts. "As a judge, you try and make orders and sentence people with the idea in mind that they're going to get resources to address their problems. When you hear that next to nothing exists, it's disheartening."The disturbing accounts have come at a time when state Department of Corrections officials are trying to restore Milwaukee County judges' confidence in probation. The recent advent of truth in sentencing in Wisconsin is expected to keep more inmates in state prisons for longer periods, so corrections officials want local judges to consider probation as a sentencing tool more often.Newly appointed Circuit Judge Michael B. Brennan, another member, said the task force was formed because the criminal penalties study committee - established to update the state felony code for truth in sentencing - recognized last year that probation needed to be boosted in Milwaukee. The task force is expected to file a report in mid-April."Probation in Milwaukee has never been examined in this way," Brennan said. "It's fair to say that a good share of our report will deal with this (drug abuse treatment)."Probation-parole agents have appeared twice in the past month at task force meetings. More than 25 agents showed up for a recent meeting in Milwaukee, and the primary recurring theme in their remarks concerned inadequate drug abuse treatment."It's been watered down to the point that these guys, some of them have been using drugs since they were 15 years old," Ithier told the panel. "Now, they're 30, they're 35, they're 40."They've been using drugs for 15 or 20 years, and we expect that they're going to recover in 90 days. Thirty days is spent in the facility. After 30 days, they hit the floor running; they go to work. After 60 days, we're doing discharge planning with them, and then there is very little aftercare provided."Ithier noted that Milwaukee County drug and alcohol treatment programs refuse to accept local probationers."They simply say, 'If you're on probation, we will not serve you,' " she said. " 'If you're on parole, I'm sorry, the State of Wisconsin has funds, let them serve you.' But the State of Wisconsin doesn't have any funds. We don't have any outpatient treatment."Agent Ron Oliver termed the state-county dispute "ridiculous.""The county is fighting against the state, the state against the county," Oliver said. "When it comes down to working together, we can't seem to get this thing to work together."Language Barrier Carmen Robles-Valadez, a counselor on alcohol and other drug abuse at the Council for Spanish Speaking, told the panel that Spanish-speaking probationers are being sent to day treatment programs where "nobody speaks Spanish.""All the material is in English, and the agent tells them, 'If you don't go there, you're going to go to jail,' " Robles-Valadez said. "There should be a choice. There should be some diversity."Amy Keller, an agent in Milwaukee for 5 1/2 years, said probationers with insurance inappropriately are sent to treatment programs provided by their insurers."They don't know how to deal with the needs of our correctional offenders," Keller said. "They don't address the cognitive problems or the minimization of their behavior, or they're oftentimes manipulated."Several agents said that until the lack of jail space for punishing wayward probationers was recently eased, agents and probationers knew a new crime had to be committed before anyone was taken into custody."There used to be a joke that some of us with real black humor said, 'Well, if there's no blood on the street, there's no violation,' " said agent Kathy Kozminski. "We knew that we didn't mean that, but it was frustrating to have someone come in, making multiple violations, to which the department appeared, from the point of view of the agent, not to be allowing us to impose the sanctions."Consequently, Kozminski said, she and other Milwaukee agents turned to creativity, "like, 'I'll call your mother.' ""Yes, because I couldn't put you in custody, so I'm going to call your mom and tell her exactly what you did," Kozminski said. "We shouldn't be reduced to that."William Johnson, an agent who supervises high-risk sex offenders, said the shortage of programming affects men on his caseload as well."Without purchase of services money for these individuals, how do you expect us to reduce the risk that they present to the community?" Johnson asked task force members. "I mean, it's a simple question."Anybody got an answer? I sure as hell haven't. I'm asked to do so much with nothing. I'm beginning to think I'm a magician because I can do almost anything just by sitting someplace talking to somebody."John Barian, assistant regional chief of probation and parole in Milwaukee, said $3 million of the $4.2 million earmarked for local programs goes to financing seven halfway houses used by those on probation and parole. Those facilities offer some drug abuse counseling, he said.The balance, Barian said, is divided among financing for alcohol and drug abuse treatment, transitional living quarters, emergency housing, anger management classes and sex offender counseling, among other things.In December, $259,000 in additional drug abuse treatment tax money was disbursed to the Milwaukee offices, which oversee 17,000 men and women on probation and parole, Barian said.Barian said the Department of Corrections "fully supports" recent legislation calling for 100 new staff positions in the local offices and $1.7 million for purchase of services.Donald said increased financing for treatment is essential."If we don't address the treatment aspect," Donald said, "we're just going to keep locking up the same people over and over."Published: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Feb. 14, 2000 Copyright 2000, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. CannabisNews Articles On Addiction Treatment:
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