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To Punish or To Treat: Substance Abuse Within the Context of Oscillating Attitudes Toward Correctional Rehabilitation

NCJ Number
Journal of Offender Rehabilitation Volume: 37 Issue: 3/4 Dated: 2003 Pages: 1-25
Nathaniel J. Pallone; James J. Hennessy
Date Published
25 pages
This paper examines the emergent shift in America's drug policy from "war" to "treatment" in the context of oscillation in societal attitudes and perceptions about who should be "punished" and who should be "treated" within, or under the aegis of, a correctional "system" that consists both of penal institutions and community agencies and resources.
The concept of the "war on drugs," which has involved an emphasis on the criminalization and punishment of illicit drug-using and drug-related behaviors, was developed in the early days of the Reagan administration. During the 1980's and 1990's, the criminalization of substance abuse was the dominant theme, such that laws governing the use, sale, importation, or manufacture of an ever-expanding list of "controlled dangerous substances" were strengthened. Legislatures not only increased drug-related sentences, but ensured their implementation through mandatory sentences that limited judicial sentencing discretion. By 2000, however, the voters of California, the governor and criminal court judges of New York, and even the Nation's "drug czar" were advocating a drug policy that emphasizes treatment for drug users. These shifts in drug policy emphases have paralleled changes in correctional policy. The effectiveness of rehabilitation was questioned under the report by Martinson (1974) that concluded most offender rehabilitation regimens for adult inmates are ineffective. A corrections policy of "just desserts" and "get tough" became the dominant theme of sentencing and corrections. Still, during the 1980's and 1990's, treatment and/or rehabilitation services continued to be offered in a variety of configurations within correctional institutions as well as in the community. Such treatment included a focus on the needs of drug-abusing offenders. Lipton's (1998) review of effectiveness data found generally positive results for such intervention services within correctional institutions; Peters and Hills (1999) reached similar conclusions in their review of data from programs in community settings. This paper briefly profiles the various treatment modalities that have shown some degree of positive results. The problem of coerced treatment is also considered. 10 references