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Report: Lax Rules Allow Felons to Serve as Drug and Alcohol Counselors in California


Felons, including sex offenders, are allowed to work as substance abuse counselors in California because of lax rules, according to a new report.

The state Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes found California does not require criminal background checks for drug and alcohol counselors. Applicants are not required to report their criminal histories, the Los Angeles Times reports.

At least 23 sex offenders have been allowed to work as substance abuse counselors since 2005, the report found. “Almost all other large states want to know about serious convictions before credentialing drug and alcohol counselors, even if the disclosure doesn’t automatically disqualify them,” the report notes.

There are an estimated 36,000 registered or certified substance abuse counselors in California, and that number is expected to grow as more people gain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Although counselors must be registered with or certified by one of seven private organizations in the state, they can continue working even if they have their registration or certification revoked, by signing up with a different organization, the report found.

The report recommends the state be put in charge of credentialing counselors. An alternative would be to require certifying organizations to perform background checks.

David Peters, a spokesperson for the California Association of Addiction Recovery Resources, one of the certifying organizations, said his group supports background checks. He noted many people become counselors while in recovery from addiction, and cautioned against disqualifying someone simply because they have a criminal history that includes drug use.

8 Responses to this article

  1. Avatar of Shannon
    Shannon / June 12, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    Being a recovering addict myself and knowing people in recovery who are felons I see nothing wrong with allowing them to be counselors, I am appalled to hear that sex offenders are allowed to be though. Some addicts like me suffer from PTSD and really shouldn’t be around sex offenders let alone taking advice but there is different levels of sex offenders that if stated would help to clarify some of my questions but generally felons should be allowed to be counselors especially if they have shown they have turned their life around.

  2. Brian / May 17, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    Let’s start with the premise that a sex offender is an excellent counselor based on some criteria. A person seeks treatment and has a choice between this person and another counselor with a squeaky clean record who meets the minimum requirements for being a counselor. Who wants their child to be seen by a sex offender? What man or woman would prefer to be seen by a sex offender for treatment? As for felons, I’d ask the same questions.

  3. Avatar of Jeff Quamme
    Jeff Quamme / May 17, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Credentialing should be a competency based process with a strict ethics code, and not based upon legal background. Credentialing is not a guarantee of employment, and the prospective employer should do their due diligence. I know of employers who will disqualify based upon past convictions and those who do not. The credentialing body has the role of assuring that the candidate meets at least minimum competencies set by experts in the field, not determining if the individual is employable for a certain agency.

  4. Avatar of Scott Wise
    Scott Wise / May 16, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    This is non-issue, and I am disturbed that the paretnership would take a position on it. Some of the most effective substance use counselor’s I have known have been the ones with the most horrendous back stories.

  5. Jim Dickey / May 16, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    What someone did in the past should not disqualify them from being a drug and alcohol counselor. A report by Sarah Tofte of Human Rights Watch found that at least five states required men to register if they were caught visiting prostitutes. At least 13 required it for urinating in public (in two of which, only if a child was present). No fewer than 29 states required registration for teenagers who had consensual sex with another teenager. And 32 states registered flashers and streakers. Whether someone was prosecuted for using or selling drugs has NOTHING to do with their ability to be a useful and successful counselor. I believe there should be background checks and full disclosure, but the only criteria for hiring a counselor should be their ability to counsel well.

  6. Fr. Jack Kearney / May 16, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    This report rightly points out some flaws in the system, but being alarmed about counselors having a felony on their record isn’t one of them. Saying that addiction is a treatable disease and that recovery is possible….unless you have a felony….is absurd. You can’t have it both ways. Felons often make the best counselors!

  7. Avatar of Shaun Marthaler
    Shaun Marthaler / May 16, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    My comment is, so what? Sure, I could see how someone being a sex offender working as a alcohol and drug counselor for the nation’s youth would be considered problematic, but you’ve established a blanket generalization regarding felons in this article.

    The simple fact of the matter is, many of these felons have had the experiences necessary to relate to others with the same problems. Are you stating that someone who has, for instance, committed involuntary manslaughter by making a mistake while driving with a 0.07 BAC (under the legal limit of 0.08) shouldn’t be allowed to share his/her remorse with someone else? I would call that preposterous. He/she made a mistake, he/she has to live with it every day, but that individual has the ability to share their experience and hope to prevent it from happening to others. I feel this article makes generalizations regarding felons that are unnecessary and filled with bigotry; especially when many felons truly have changed and want to do better by the world.

  8. Leslie Basden / May 16, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    I have worked with felons–one of whom served ten years in prison–here in California. Some make excellent counselors, and they are fingerprinted and background-checked. Sex offenders would be easy to eliminate.

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