IN RECENT years, the waiting lists of those seeking drug-abuse treatment has been greatly swelled by local criminal justice systems that have ordered many defendants to seek a cure for addiction. There are too few licensed and certified treatment programs in the Washington area to meet the need. The local courts and probation officers are desperate for alternatives, but that does not remove a crucial responsibility: to make sure that drug-treatment facilities are responsible and useful to those in need of substance-abuse care.
The "Save the Seed" drug treatment ministry is located in a Fort Washington house, and it has received criminal justice referrals from authorities in both Prince George's County and the District. It is not licensed by the state of Maryland, has no certification and no trained drug-abuse counselors. The man in charge, the Rev. Robert Freeman, has not had formal religious training. But judges and probation officers in both jurisdictions ordered addicts into treatment there, even though no probation officer had first visited the site to check its credentials and methods.
As many as 50 people have been jammed in crowded conditions at the house. There have been mandatory marathon Bible sessions lasting 10 to 12 hours, and residents can be roused at any time of the night to engage in such sessions. The reverend says he has used "exorcism" rites on his charges to cast out demons and says it has been occasionally necessary to physically strike people to maintain order. The residents are controlled, says the reverend. "They can't learn to beat the system because there is no system. They do what I say when I say."
Officials finally investigated after a mother complained of irregularities. One D.C. Superior Court judge now says he has "severe reservations" about the operation, and the D.C. probation division pulled five people from the program. "It was unsatisfactory for us to have anybody there," said the director of Superior Court social services.
It is one thing when addicted citizens choose to submit themselves to the unusual tactics used by Rev. Freeman. It is quite another when people are ordered into such a questionable and possibly damaging situation by the courts. Judges and probation officers should not be involved in ordering addicts into unlicensed and uncertified programs that have no trained addiction counselors. The problem highlights the fact that new or greatly expanded treatment facilities are needed, and the criminal justice system should be lobbying -- vigorously -- for their creation.