California’s $1-billion investment in drug treatment for prisoners since 1989 has been “a complete waste of money” and has done nothing to reduce the number of inmates cycling in and out of custody, said a state inspector general’s study reported by the Los Angeles Times. Recidivism rates for inmates who participated in one program were a bit higher than those of a group of convicts who did not receive treatment, Inspector General Matt Cate said. He said officials were told in more than 20 reports since 1997 that the programs were failing but did nothing to fix them, choosing instead to expand them and fund more studies.
Successful treatment programs could increase public safety, “change lives and help relieve the state’s prison overcrowding crisis,” Cate said. “But so far the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has squandered that opportunity.” In anticipation of the report, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered a shake-up of the department’s drug treatment operation and put someone new in charge. Kathryn Jett, director of the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs since 2000, will lead the reorganized division within corrections. One in five California inmates is serving time for a drug offense, and an even larger proportion – more than half of the 172,000 behind bars – need drug treatment. California’s recidivism rate, meanwhile, remains among the nation’s highest, with about 70% of inmates returning to prison within several years of release.