Study: Many Alaskans don't get alcohol treatment until they land in prison

Posted: Sunday, December 30, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Many criminals need treatment for alcohol or drug abuse but don't get it before they land in prison, a new study suggests. The administration says the study bolsters its request to boost spending on treatment of alcohol and drug abuse by $5.5 million.

''There's a real need for specialized treatment for folks with these disorders, and there's a lack of that resource available for people,'' said Candace Brower, legislative liaison for the state Department of Corrections.

Researchers in the summer and fall of 2000 talked to 208 Alaskans who entered prison in the previous year and spent at least a month outside of prison that year.

Eight out of 10 had actively abused or were dependent on alcohol or drugs in the prior year. But only about half of them had received treatment in that period, according to the study released this week.

Half of those who did get substance-abuse treatment said they wanted more services, but they weren't available. About one in five prisoners that needed such treatment never had it, the study said.

The study was conducted by North Charles Research and Planning Group of Cambridge, Mass., for the state.

Gov. Tony Knowles has asked for $3 million in additional funds in fiscal 2003 to reduce waiting lists for alcohol treatment and $868,000 for more substance-abuse counselors in rural areas.

He also wants $2.5 million in new spending for juvenile alcohol treatment, alcohol treatment for women with children, and for former prisoners diagnosed with addictions and mental illness.

Regarding the effectiveness of treatment, the Department of Corrections points to a study last year of 20 women prisoners who underwent an intensive program while at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River.

Women in the treatment program were less likely to reoffend in the six months following their release than women who needed the treatment but didn't get it, the limited study indicated.

''It has been clearly documented for the past two decades that treatment of substance abuse and addictions substantially reduces incidences of assault, child abuse, vehicular accidents, unemployment and other social issues,'' said Valerie Kelly, executive director of the Tongass Community Counseling Center in Juneau. ''Treatment for women who already have come to the attention of the legal system has the potential to help prevent birth defects and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome-related disorders.

But the larger study also points to the uncertain results from treatment for alcohol and drug abuse. More than half of the surveyed inmates said they had gotten treatment in prison, some of them several times. Four out of five had undergone treatment at some point before they were sent to prison. A quarter had received treatment three or more times.

Yet the surveyed inmates had been incarcerated an average of four times each.

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