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Mayor Griffin Urges State Legislators to Support Drug Testing and Treatment in Prisons

By Ed Somers

"We need to do everything in our power, as public servants, to try and ensure that persons leaving prison do not still have a drug problem," Reno Mayor Jeff Griffin told participants in the 25th annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) in Indianapolis on July 25.

Mayor Griffin, who chairs the Criminal and Social Justice Committee of The U.S. Conference of Mayors, participated in a panel discussion entitled "Safer Streets, Stronger Communities." The session was moderated by State Senator Michael Sanchez (NM), Chair of the NCSL Criminal Justice Committee.

The Conference of Mayors has adopted strong policy calling for drug testing and treatment in jails and prisons, and Mayor Griffin took this message to the state legislators in an attempt to form a partnership on this priority concern.

Griffin said, "Mayors have learned, from both experience and statistical evidence, that we cannot underestimate the influence of drugs on our overall crime rates. For example, a report issued by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) entitled Behind Bars: Substance Abuse and America's Prison Population found that drug and alcohol abuse and addiction are implicated in the crimes and incarceration of 80 percent -- some 1.4 million -- of the 1.7 million men and women behind bars in America."

The same report found that from 1993 to 1996, the number of inmates needing substance abuse treatment climbed from 688,000 to 840,000, while the number of inmates in treatment hovered around 150,000.

Griffin said there is now evidence that a comprehensive effort to reduce drug use in prisons and provide treatment can work. The Pennsylvania Prison Drug Testing Program -- which includes using electronic drug-detection devices, increasing drug-sniffing dog teams, monitoring inmate telephone calls, conducting daily, random urine tests, and expanding substance abuse treatment -- has made Pennsylvania Prisons nearly 99 percent drug free according to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Justice.

Mayor Griffin said, "We know that most prisoners are incarcerated in prisons and jails which are run by states and counties," and stressed, "what we are seeking is a partnership with the states, not an unfunded federal mandate." "We want to work with NCSL to develop model programs and policies which can be duplicated in every state."

Mayor Griffin urged that the states adopt a three-point agenda which includes:

  • the increased provision of treatment in prisons and jails, and to persons on probation or parole;

  • increased efforts to keep drugs out of prisons and jails; and

  • the adoption of mandatory policies that every prisoner pass a drug test prior to release, and continue to be tested while on probation or parole.

"At a minimum, it seems only logical that we demand that anyone leaving prison, to thus re-enter our communities, be tested to be drug free. If they cannot pass such a test, they will surely commit new crimes within days, if not hours, of their release," Griffin concluded.

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