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Lack of programs leaves no choice

By Tom Davis

Ron Troche thought he had one last shot.

Sure, everything looked bleak. He was in the Bergen CountyJail. It was his ninth incarceration, this time for stealing items from a car.When he was caught, he was drunk.

Still, lawyers and social workers worked feverishly to finda place for him in a treatment program for drug and alcohol abuse. Yes, he'dgone that route before. Maybe this time it'll work, they said.

In September, Troche was hopeful. His lawyer, Daniel Baer,had found two programs and was working hard to find a place for Troche in oneof them.

"I'm going to make this program work," Trochesaid. "I'm going to make it work."

On Oct. 28, Troche walked into Superior County Judge LoisLipton's courtroom, chained and shackled. Baer spoke for him.

"I wish I could come before you and ask that you dowhat Mr. Troche absolutely needs, and that is, put him in a drug program,"Baer said.

"I come before you today to tell you we have noprogram."

Troche, meanwhile, looked at the judge and shrugged. Heheard this before. So have many other prisoners who've sought help fromtreatment programs but failed.

The problem, counselors say, is the programs lack theability to assist jail inmates who suffer from drug and alcohol addictions.

Their facilities are burdened by funding constraints andother obstacles that limit their ability to help. They can't expand so they canoffer more beds. They don't have the money that would pay for additionalstaffing. The staffing they do have doesn't necessarily have the ability totake care of them.

Sixteen percent of the nation's prison population suffersfrom mental illness. Many take medication. But once they leave jail, theyrequire a program that will monitor their drug intake and help them adjust tosociety.

Troche would have liked to have gone to Eva's Village inPaterson, one of the state's largest rehabilitation centers. Yet, it has awaiting list for its 122-bed program.

Even if there were a spot for Troche, he may not have gottenin. Eva's struggles with dual-diagnosis patients - clientswho suffer from substance abuse problems and mental illnesses - because they'redifficult for the facility's small staff to manage, said Barbara Niziol, the facility's development coordinator. The facilityprovides a psychiatrist, psychologist and therapist for people with mentalillness, she said. Troche suffers from anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorderand drug and alcohol addictions.

Troche also takes medication for his mental illnesses.Eva's, however, is "not really equipped to handle very serious amounts ofmedication for people with serious problems," Niziolsaid.

If a facility like Eva's had more money, it could hire morestaff and then take more cases. It also could possibly expand and add beds.

Funding from governmental and charitable resources, however,has been sluggish in recent years.

Eva's staff maintains a positive attitude and hopes toexpand its facilities. But here's the bottom line: Troche and others like him,for the time being, are left out in the cold.

When inmates have the choice of waiting for an opening ortransferring to state prison, many choose the latter. They figure they'll getparoled in a year, anyway. Why wait?

That's how Troche felt soon after he was arrested in May andbefore his attorney searched for programs. "I'd much rather do it that wayand get it over with," he said at the time.

With limited resources, the judicial system feels the painof the convicted who just can't catch a break.

Lipton showed her own frustration when she sentenced Trocheto three years in state prison. She and others in the judicial system havegrown tired of seeing his and other faces over and over.

They know that jail isn't the answer.

"If we could find appropriate placement in a drugprogram, that would be the appropriate thing to do," she said duringTroche's sentencing hearing.

Reproduced with permission of The Record of Hackensack, NJ.

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