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Drug Rehab Part Of New Washington State Prison Reform Bill Print E-mail
Wednesday, 25 July 2007
A new Washington State law backed by $25 million in state funding aims to keep ex-offenders from returning to state prison by providing them with needed counseling, education, job-training skills or drug rehab.

The Offender Re-Entry Act (Senate Bill 6157), which passed with bipartisan support, requires the Department of Corrections to draw up a plan for the employment and treatment of every offender before his or her release from prison. It aims to address the major reasons offenders violate the terms of their release and end up back behind bars: mental illness, lack of job skills, illiteracy and lack of drug rehab.

The law is the state’s latest effort to control the state prison population by reducing prisoner recidivism. In Washington, 37 percent of released offenders return to prison within five years. They take up space needed for inmates convicted of new crimes. To house them, the state rents jail and work-release center space from several counties, and even from other states.

To help implement the new law, the state plans to build two large treatment centers. Each facility will hold between 200 and 500 ex-convicts charged with violating terms of their release. Each will provide a range of options including literacy education, job training and access to drug rehab. Community corrections officers will have new tools for supervising released offenders, including the discretion to recommend returning them to state custody after three violations.

Under the state’s Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA) which has been operating for nearly a decade, certain felony offenders can receive a shorter prison sentence if they participate in and complete a drug rehab program. This existing program has resulted in a statistically significant reduction of 7 percent in reconviction rates within 24 months, and paid the state back in the range of $7.25 to $9.94 in benefits per dollar of cost. But it has only been available to two types of felons: drug offenders convicted for possessing a small amount of a controlled substance, and drug-involved property offenders.

The new legislation extends substance abuse treatment options to those felons with alcohol and drug addiction and dependencies not necessarily part of their crimes. Felons with untreated addictions have little hope of recovery when jail time is their only option, and their eventual return to prison seems inevitable. The new program holds hope that recidivism will be significantly reduced for such prisoners who complete a successful drug rehab program.

Rod MacTaggart is a Florida-based freelance writer who contributes articles on health. Contact: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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