Secure treatment would allow drug offenders second chance


POSTED: Friday, March 20, 2009

Drug addiction has led to a proliferation of repeat criminal offenders in Hawaii, creating an unsafe environment for our families. Many of the drugs in circulation today, especially methamphetamine - commonly known as “;ice”; - are highly addictive and can't adequately be treated by community-based methods such as psychotherapy or 12-step programs. This is why I introduced House Bill 358, promoting a secure drug treatment option. As an ex-drug addict testified before the House Committee on Finance, “;Drug addicts are stuck in a cycle of delusion. Similar to temporary insanity, there is simply no logic to their actions. They'll do anything to get drugs. Most addicts commit crimes to feed their habit - crimes that stop when they become sober.”;

Because we are using jails as warehouses for drug offenders, the cost of incarceration is skyrocketing and prisons are becoming overcrowded. The United States has the highest per-capita number of incarcerated citizens of any country in the world. Sixty percent of male and 80 percent of female inmates in Hawaii prisons are incarcerated because of nonviolent drug-related offenses. We need to utilize a more proactive approach to deal with this public health pandemic.

HB 358 calls for a “;secure drug treatment facility,”; preferably modeled after the nationally recognized Second Chance program of New Mexico. This program has four modules. The first module helps offenders gain self-respect and life skills such as communication, self-control and behavioral modification. Most drug addicts do not have communicative and expressive skills, which causes frustration and can lead to drug abuse. The second module involves physical detoxification and health restoration. The third module improves employment skills, and the final module works on restoring faith and family reintegration.

There are numerous examples of drug addicts, even after sentencing, committing violent crimes - killing innocent people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Law enforcement and health professionals must collaborate to alleviate this serious problem. A secured drug treatment center is a facility employing security protocols modeled after a minimum-security detention center, including continuous direct supervision.

I have spoken to ex-inmates who described emotionally abusive treatment in Hawaii's prisons. There also are many reports of illicit drug availability. Exposure of vulnerable addicts to the same abusive environment and accessibility of drugs in prison as on the streets yields high recidivism rates.

It is also extremely important for vulnerable people, such as teenage girls, to have a safe haven for treatment, away from drug pushers and pimps.

HB 358 is broad in its guidelines so as to allow social service and judicial professionals the latitude to tailor it to the specific needs of their clientele.

A secured drug treatment facility costs less and is more effective than incarceration for reducing recidivism. Studies have shown that mandated drug treatments has as high a success rate as does voluntary. Keeping drug addicts in a secured environment, to ensure that they remain clean and sober while they engage in treatment, will prevent them from harming society. Alternative programs that include house arrest or curfew using electronic monitoring devices and surveillance, programs of regimental discipline and court monitoring such as Drug Court also might be helpful.

Drug abuse is at heart a community health concern. If treated as such, it doesn't need to become a criminal concern. Let's treat this problem at its roots. Let's protect our ohana from harm.


Rida Cabanilla, a Democrat, represents Ewa, Waipahu and Honouliuli in the state House. She is chairwoman of the Housing Committee.