New York’s Prisons Fall Short, Again
Published: March 21, 2011
Perhaps as many as three-quarters of New York State’s 57,000 prison inmates need drug counseling or treatment to have a chance at productive, crime-free lives once they are released. A three-year study of drug and alcohol abuse programs in the New York State Department of Corrections suggests that prisons are failing to provide adequate treatment programs for the tens of thousands of inmates who need them.
The study by the Correctional Association of New York, a nonprofit group, examined drug treatment programs at 23 of the state’s nearly 68 facilities. It found that the programs varied wildly in effectiveness and that most departed significantly from best practices laid out by the addiction research division of the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
The New York prison programs have several deficiencies in common. They fail to screen candidates based on the severity of their problems, which means they wastefully enroll large numbers of people in intensive programs they don’t need. They also routinely enroll poorly motivated inmates, which limits effectiveness. In a particularly glaring oversight, they fail to coordinate prison treatment programs with those offered in the communities to which the inmates will return.
The correctional association’s researchers found model treatment programs in at least four state prisons, including Hale Creek in upstate Fulton County. According to the report, these prisons use a three-phase system that begins with a six-month residential treatment program, in which the targeted inmates live in a separate prison dorm. This is followed by an integration component, under which people typically receive treatment during work release. Finally, newly released men and women are formally enrolled in community programs.
According to the study, the Department of Corrections could improve drug treatment without spending any more than the estimated $19 million it currently devotes to this problem by deploying the existing staff in better designed programs. The result would be better drug treatment, safer communities and less recidivism.