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Corrections officials analyze length of prison substance abuse programs

October 28, 2011
by News release
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Harrisburg, Pa. — The Department of Corrections recently began a pilot project to determine the most effective length for substance abuse treatment in state prisons. Programs known as therapeutic communities provide intensive treatment for inmates coping with issues of alcohol and other drugs. Inmates under treatment are housed together, and learn to support one another as they move through the program as a group.

"The department recently conducted an internal analysis that compared therapeutic communities of three, six and nine months in length, as well as the re-incarceration rates of program participants," Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said. "We found that there was essentially no difference between the three- and six-month programs. As a result, we are going to pilot four-month therapeutic community (TC) programs at specific state prisons and review the outcome."

Under a pilot program begun in September, one therapeutic community at each of four prisons was changed from six months in duration to four months. The State Correctional Institutions at Chester, Dallas, Fayette and Houtzdale were chosen as pilot sites because all have been operating two therapeutic communities.

In an effort to ensure that the findings of the internal analysis are reliable enough to support a policy change, DOC staff has recommended an initial pilot test of the change in procedures. During this pilot project, approximately 400 inmates will be reviewed and followed over a period of three years. Their recidivism rates will be compared and analyzed.

"This is the perfect example of a state agency reviewing its operations to ensure effectiveness," Wetzel said. "If we can achieve the same outcome without jeopardizing public safety, why not shorten program lengths accordingly?

"If the analysis supports the change, this will allow the department to treat offenders more efficiently, use treatment resources more effectively and maintain the current TC curriculum, with minor modifications, without jeopardizing the current level of treatment effectiveness," Wetzel said.

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