US Mayor Article

More Drug Testing and Treatment Needed in Prisons and Jails, Mayor Griffin Tells National Association of Counties

By Ed Somers
March 20, 2000

“We need to do everything in our power, as public servants, to try and ensure that persons leaving prison or jail do not still have a drug problem,” Reno Mayor Jeff Griffin told participants in the Legislative Conference of the National Association of Counties (NACo) in Washington, DC on March 4.

Mayor Griffin, who chairs the Criminal and Social Justice Committee of The U.S. Conference of Mayors, participated in NACo’s Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee meeting chaired by Commissioner James Cadue of Monroe County (PA).

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 Conference of Mayors has adopted a three-point agenda on drugs in prisons and jails 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.

To help start this initiative, the Conference has called on the federal government to require that every person leaving a federal prison pass a drug test. “Our federal government must set the example for the nation,” Griffin stated.

According to a 1997 survey conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 73 percent of federal prisoners reported prior drug use, up from 60 percent in 1991 – a fact recognized by the federal government which has increased the provision of treatment in its prisons.

In a major step forward on this initiative, Sen. John Ashcroft (MO) unveiled a new bill (S 2008) at the Conference’s recent national meeting on “The Drug Crisis on Cities and Rural Communities.”

The bill would require the pre-release drug testing of federal prisoners. Sen. Ashcroft is the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Federalism, and Property Rights.

The new bill was drafted at the request of the nation’s mayors, and requires that the Attorney General issue an arrest warrant for any federal prisoner who fails a mandatory drug test prior to release.

The bill also authorizes $2 million in FY 2000 to fund a special office within the Justice Department for the investigation and prosecution of prisoners for whom an arrest warrant is issued.

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 urged that NACo support the Ashcroft legislation. He added, “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.”

Mayor Griffin received positive comments from the members of the NACo committee, who agreed that the issue of drugs and the criminal justice system needs greater attention. One committee member urged that the issue of mental health and drugs also be given greater focus.