Lax oversight allows felons to counsel addicts, report finds

California's lax rules governing who can work as substance abuse counselors have allowed sex offenders and other felons to treat addicts with little to no scrutiny by the state, according to a report by the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes released Monday.

California does not require a criminal background check for drug and alcohol counselors, nor does it ask applicants to report their criminal histories, according to the report, which found that at least 23 sex offenders have been permitted to work as counselors since 2005.

"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 states.

California has approximately 36,000 registered or certified counselors working in 2,534 private or publicly funded drug and alcohol programs, the report states. The demand for their work is expected to grow as more people become insured under the Affordable Care Act, according to the report.

Since 2005, substance abuse counselors have been required by the state to register with, or become certified by, one of seven private organizations in the state, such as the California Certification Board of Alcohol and Drug Counselors.

The system has allowed counselors to continue working despite having their certifications or registrations revoked, the report states. They are able to sign up with a different certifying organization and keep working.

"There are plenty of cracks and plenty of opportunities to slip through the cracks," said John Hill, a consultant to the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes who prepared the report.


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