Sunday, February 28, 2010

Rubén Rosario: Justice Is His Beat

Ruben RosarioOne of the quiet heroes of Twin Cities journalism, the Pioneer Press's Rubén Rosario, tells stories no one else does. Friday's paper included a great example titled Inmate drug-addiction study has a chilling message.

In it Rosario, who says he "mostly read[s] nonfiction reports, for work as well as for pleasure," summarizes the findings of a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), an organization headed by former HHS Secretary Joe Califano.

He writes:

...this morning's report — a sobering national snapshot on crime and insobriety in all its forms — is worth mentioning. It's quite a dirty-laundry list, so bear with me:
  • Between 1996 and 2006, as the U.S. prison population rose by 12 percent to 2.3 million inmates, the number of inmates who were substance-involved shot up by 43 percent to 1.9 million. That's roughly 85 percent [emphasis added].
  • In 2005, federal, state and local government agencies nationally spent $74 billion on incarceration, court proceedings, probation and parole for substance-involved adult and juvenile offenders.
  • In contrast, these governments spent less than 1 percent of that amount, $632 million, on abuse prevention and treatment for such offenders.
  • Only 11 percent of inmates with substance-use disorders receive any type of treatment during incarceration.
  • Alcohol — still the most destructive and costly societal addiction — is implicated in the incarceration of more than half of all inmates in America. Note — my words here — that booze is a legally accessible controlled substance...
  • Female inmates are "significantly more likely to have co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders.


    "These co-occurring conditions are linked to the fact that female inmates are more than seven times likelier to have been sexually abused and almost four times likelier to have been physically abused before incarceration than male inmates,'' today's report states.
According to Califano, if "all inmates with substance-use disorders who are not receiving treatment were provided evidence-based treatment and aftercare, we would break even on this investment in one year if just over 10 percent of those receiving such services remained substance- and crime-free and employed."

But we're not doing that, and in the current economic climate and political need to avoid "coddling" criminals, we're not likely to any time soon.

If we could get over that avoidance, according to Califano, we'd save a lot of money: "For each succeeding year that these inmates remained substance- and crime-free and employed, the nation would reap an economic benefit of $90,953 per inmate in reduced crime, lower arrest, prosecution, incarceration and health care costs, and economic benefits from employment."

These types of reports play an odd role in American society. They're read by a small audience of policy wonks in government and nonprofit organizations, but often arrive and disappear without any notice from the public.

I like to think that smart people who have input into the legislative process are paying attention, but clearly reports like this need champions to make sure they get incorporated into public policy discussions.

Thanks to Rubén Rosario for improving that possibility.

The full report can be read with Rosario's story, on the CASA website or here as a pdf.

1 comment:

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Thanks for posting this. Rosario is the one reporter I try to ALWAYS read in the Pioneer Press.