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Peter Ninemire

March 26, 2007 - Associated Press (US)

Figures Show State Barely Funding Abuse Treatment Programs For Inmates

Wichita -- Parolees with substance abuse problems are getting little or no help from the state to overcome their addictions, which increases the chances they will return to crime or prison, experts say.

The Kansas Department of Corrections has provided no money for community-based substance abuse treatment for two budget years in a row, according to figures the Department of Corrections provided to The Wichita Eagle.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has proposed the first significant funding increase in years, prompting Roger Werholtz, secretary of corrections, to say he hopes funding will start improving.

Substance abuse treatment after prison has "got to be the key" to any effort to help parolees return to civilian life, said Ron Iacovetta, a Wichita State University associate professor who studies corrections issues.

For many offenders, substance abuse is "the ingredient that triggered a lot of crime to begin with," Iacovetta said.

As of last week, the state had 5,621 parolees, and those numbers are expected to rise because the state is sending fewer parolees back to prison, even when they repeatedly violate their parole.

Peter Ninemire, who spent 10 years in federal prison for marijuana cultivation, now works as a substance abuse counselor in Wichita. He said treatment in the community is crucial because inmates encounter obstacles and bad influences when they are released from prison.

"Anybody can talk a good game in prison," Ninemire said, because there is so much structure there.

Ninemire said some people think that treating parolees' drug and alcohol addictions is being soft on crime, when it actually is "the best anti-crime tool that we have."

Corrections department figures show that in fiscal year 2005, only $155,071 out of the $29.4 million budget for community-based programs went specifically for substance abuse treatment. In fiscal 2006 and in the estimated budget for the current budget year, no money was budgeted for substance abuse treatment.

The governor's office has requested $460,000 for fiscal 2008, and Werholtz said he is optimistic the Legislature will approve it. A separate proposal would increase funding for prison-based substance abuse treatment from around $1 million in the current budget to nearly $1.4 million.

Parolees trying to pay for the treatment often have difficulty getting and maintaining jobs, making even a $20 treatment fee difficult to pay, Ninemire said.

Ninemire said that a parolee's best chance for getting treatment often is to get into trouble and be ordered to a treatment program.

The biggest need, he said, is residential drug treatment, "where we could give people more than three days in detox ... because many people need longer interventions." Without longer-term care, he said, "they don't even stand a chance."

Rep. Michael O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said it does appear there is legislative support this year for more funding.

Posted 4/3/07

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