- The Washington Times - Friday, October 8, 2004

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. “But we’re joined at the hip on this.”

In its five-year study, “Criminal Neglect: Substance Abuse, Juvenile Justice and the Children Left Behind,” CASA says that 78.4 percent of 2.4 million 10- to 17-year-olds in juvenile justice systems were under the influence of drugs or alcohol while committing their crimes, tested positive for drugs, were arrested for a drug or alcohol offense, admitted having a substance abuse problem, or had a combination of these issues. However, only 68,600 juveniles, or 3.6 percent, received any form of substance abuse treatment.

CASA’s reforms include a national “model code” for juvenile justice systems, diagnostic assessments of youths entering the system, and more diversion programs so youths can get help outside prison settings.

David Doi, executive director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, a nonprofit resource group, agreed that substance abuse “is a very big issue in the juvenile justice world.”

In addition, one-half to three-quarters of incarcerated youths have diagnosable mental health issues, including depression and eating, conduct or emotional disorders, Mr. Doi said.

The coalition also believes there should be far more treatment programs, especially in community and family settings.

“Group homes are preferable to correctional facilities,” he said, noting that they are associated with lower recidivism rates.

In Congress, the House on Wednesday passed a bill to spend $50 million on mental health training and services for adult and juvenile offenders. Substance abuse disorders would be covered under the bill, which is waiting Senate consideration.

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