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Stretching the Definition of Treatment

JACKIE HANCOCK is a big woman, neatly kept and articulate in speaking her mind. So the former Drug Enforcement Administration statistical clerk must have been an intimidating - as well as unlikely - sight with a pistol in her hand robbing congressional staffers up on Capitol Hill. But she was addicted to drugs - cocaine and PCP. And when she wasn't working for dealers who paid her bills and gave her drugs, she was robbing to support her habits, she says.

It was only at times that she found herself in prison that she says she came to her senses and begged not to be released from prison treatment programs.

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``I was hitting the pipe within 20 minutes'' of her return to her parents' home in a neighborhood full of drug users, she recalls of her last prison release.

Similarly, Denise Seymore, a crack cocaine addict who said she ``could not identify'' with her four children while on drugs, remembers the last time she was released from prison ``I had nowhere else to go but back there.''

``There'' is a southeast Washington housing project where she calls life ``depressing'' - especially because the man she says she loves and lived with for 13 years has left her.

Both women have been through treatment programs before and failed.

That's common, though, because traditional treatment recidivism is more than 50 percent, explains Jasper Ormond, program director of the D.C. Department of Corrections Pilot Substance Abuse Treatment Program.

Both women, along with 34 other female and 36 male D.C. prison inmates from the district's Lorton prison complex, are part of Mr. Ormond's new transitional treatment program for drug-abusing prisoners.

Of the prison system's 9,000 prisoners, 97 percent are black. And while just 45 percent are serving time for drug-related crimes, more than 80 percent have had a history of drug abuse, according to D.C. Department of Corrections statistics.

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The common denominator among these people is the urban environment they came from, Ormond suggests. There is a basic anxiety about ``not having mastery over your environment... where young men feel that having a gun and money are keys to manhood... women who see their only possibilities [of success] are to be a cook and dishwasher,'' he says.

So the pilot program - to be expanded to 256 inmates when a new facility is finished this year - aims to stretch the meaning of drug treatment. Rather than traditional programs that only last a few months, this one inducts prisoners two years before their parole dates and carries them through psychiatric treatment and academic training, then on to a group home where they live with a mentor while they work. They leave once they are succeeding in a job and can afford to live on their own.

Key to the program is what Ormond calls the ``geocultural'' aspect, which broadens the addicts' environment. Participants are taught African-American history, with an eye toward developing a sense of the black community's roots and its historic figures. Ms. Seymore, for example, offers that her favorite part of the program has been African history, ``learning where I came from.''

Further, the drug culture is ``de-romanticized,'' says Ormond, by teaching that drugs are ``a poison from outside.'' Drug kingpins who bring the drugs in, as well as each black person who chooses to use drugs, contribute to the degrading of the black community, he says.

Education programs tries to bridge gaps that stem from a ghetto upbringing. For example, Ormond says participants are taught ``basic nutrition, what is good food. A kid may start the day with a doughnut and candy bar,'' he says, habits that might continue the rest of his life.

The women's program started this fall, but the men's is into its second year at a transitional home. Ormond says there is an 85 percent retention rate for the men.

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