Drug users who have committed crimes are finding a way out of addiction through a Maui Drug Court program. The program, unique in the state, confines the men in a lock-down dormitory at the Maui prison, where they receive individual and group counseling and are required to take courses such as relapse prevention.

Drug addicts get
second chance in
Maui court program

Participants receive counseling
and must take courses
to change their behavior

By Gary Kubota

WAILUKU >> Maui Drug Court counselor Ronnie Santiago stood by a chalkboard inside a room at the Maui prison and asked a group of men seated in a classroom what happens when they're confronted with a situation that makes them angry.

"My body gets hot," one of the men said.

"What did you do?" Santiago asked.

"I stuffed it."

Santiago told the men that holding emotions within themselves is dangerous and could eventually lead to acting out frustrations on another person or surroundings.

The answer is to talk about it.

Understanding what led them to be drug users is one of the steps toward rehabilitation in "Impact Drug and Alcohol Treatment Program," the only recovery program of its type in the state and one of only four in the nation.

The program, similar to one in Los Angeles County, is part of the Maui Drug Court, where a select group of inmates, jail detainees, and people facing probation and parole violations get a chance to kick their drug addiction and avoid hard time in prison.

Reducing drug addition has become an important part of lessening crime in Maui County, where about 85 percent of criminal arrests in 1998 were related to drug abuse, according to a Maui Drug Court study.

For many of the 14 men living in the 24-bed Dormitory 3 at the Maui Community Correctional Center, the program is their last chance.

The dormitory is within the barbed-wire facility but separated from the regular prison population.

Some men have chosen to participate in the 30- to 90-day drug treatment program rather than remain in jail pending trial.

Many face probation or parole violations and would likely serve the remainder of their sentence in prison.

A few are on furlough from the regular prison population and hope their successful completion of the program will help them obtain an early release.

The program, funded through a $100,000 grant from the county and $20,000 in seed money from the Hawaii Community Foundation, seeks to give detainees and convicted offenders a better chance of staying out of trouble once in the community.

Drug Court official Lillian Koller said in the year since the program's inception on the Valley Isle, none of the 57 people who have participated in the program has been arrested again.

Usually, 80 percent of drug-addicted offenders will be re-arrested within six months of their release, she said

"The program gives a person a really solid foundation in recovery before we let them out," Koller said.

Koller said because of the limited size of the correctional facilities, women requiring treatment have been sent to an Impact residential facility in Pasadena, Calif.

The drug treatment program is not for everyone. Many detainees and inmates do not qualify or resist entering it because of its stringent rules, officials said.

Officials have removed 11 men from the program for infractions.

The program is highly structured, requiring the men to participate in activities 12 hours a day, five days a week, rising at 5:30 a.m. to make their bunk beds.

After breakfast, they go through a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, then participate both in individual and group-counseling sessions.

They also are required to study on their own, taking courses on relapse prevention, criminal behavior and restructuring their belief system.

Only people charged with nonviolent crimes qualify for the program, and anyone who displays violent behavior is removed from the dormitory.

Participants are also required to report anyone violating rules, including thefts and threats, and are barred from having any contact with the general prison population.

Impact Maui director David Ramage said the program creates an atmosphere directly opposite to the prison environment, where people face intimidation and threats and are discouraged by other inmates from reporting infractions.

"It's all about practicing honesty," said a furloughed inmate, a former heavy equipment operator serving a five-year mandatory drug sentence for selling crystal methamphetamine.

"I really have a lot of respect for this program. It teaches love, faith and trust. They want us to practice saying, 'No.'"

Another Maui man, a crystal methamphetamine addict facing trial for forgery, said he's never been in a prison and staying in Dormitory 3 has made him realize what he may lose.

"This is my first time, and I'm sure it's going to be my last time," he said.

An older inmate who once operated a towing company described himself as a second-generation drug user who has been in and out of prison since 1996. He had difficulty controlling his anger "when I don't get things my way."

"I'm learning to accept the things I cannot change," he said. "You got to really swallow your pride."

He stared with a glazed look at the wall.

"I used to think it was cool to go to prison. But it's not. It's a waste of time."

Koller said the program is also good for assessing whether a person facing trial or revocation of parole or probation might be a good candidate for the latter stage of the program, which includes outpatient treatment after completing the dormitory phase.

The treatment doesn't stop once they're released from Dormitory 3.

Under the Drug Court program, for the next 12 months, they are tested for drugs six days a week, must undergo intensive counseling regularly and have a job.

If they fail to meet Drug Court guidelines of conduct, they may have to re-enter the dormitory program or they could serve the rest of their sentence in prison.

Learning to overcome disappointment is a part of the treatment.

"You learn to identify your feelings, if it's something inside you or not," the older inmate said. "Sometimes there's no solution, and you got to look at the consequences of your action."

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