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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, May 20, 2003

State prison crunch makes therapy crucial

It is impressive that even in the face of limited financial resources, the Lingle administration is pressing ahead with its plans to put a much greater emphasis on substance abuse treatment programs within the prison system.

As reported by staff writer Johnny Brannon, the administration is reviewing options as it struggles to deal with overcrowded prisons and expensive Mainland incarceration.

The signals are that if the state goes ahead with plans to build new facilities, they will be focused on treatment rather than simple incarceration. That is the right approach. Prison officials estimate that as many as 85 percent of inmates need drug or alcohol abuse treatment.

Unhappily, treatment always seems to get left out when budgets are tight. For instance, lawmakers last year created a new law that allows some nonviolent drug users to be diverted to treatment programs rather than jail, but with no new money to pay for it.

Under the supervision of Lt. Gov. James Aiona, a working group is in the middle of a wholesale review of state prison policy. It seems likely the group will come up with a proposal for a major new facility focused on therapy.

No doubt the price tag will appear daunting. But there really is no choice.

It is clear that without successful substance abuse treatment, prison becomes a revolving door. The social, economic and human costs of that process are incalculable.