Most people know someone suffering from the disease of addiction. Some people may have lived with it themselves. In one way or another, most have had their lives impacted by this disease and its consequences.
Many lives have been changed by the result of a prison sentence for a drug conviction. In one way or another nearly every person in the United States has known someone who has, or loved someone who has, or has themselves personally suffered this consequence. We have all wondered at one point or another if sending addicts to prison is the answer. There has to be another solution, one in which the person suffering from the disease of addiction gets help and not a prison sentence for drug offenses. There should be consequences to every action but does incarceration hinder or help the addict? While it’s tempting to think that a prison sentence is the answer, prison doesn’t teach addicts to change their way of thinking and behavior. In many instances, It simply teaches them more criminal ways to support their addiction. Some people may argue that a prison sentence is the only way to safeguard the community from the addict. Those suffering from addiction will eventually be returned to the community and in many cases they will have not been treated for their underlying problem, their drug addiction.
Wouldn’t public safety be better served by treating the addict in the first place? In the Fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders addiction has been classified as Substance Abuse Disorder, a mental disorder or disease. Should we really punish people with imprisonment if they are suffering from a disease? Or should we get them help for their disease? It has been proven that the overwhelming amount of drug convictions has over taxed our prison systems in recent years. Nearly 50% of the prisoners serving time in our federal prisons as of September 10, 2014 were drug offenders. Current drug policy places an increasing burden on an already overcrowded prison system.
We are using space to house nonviolent drug offenders that could be better utilized to house violent criminals. The laws that are in effect today weren’t written with today’s society in mind. These laws were enacted to prevent drug trafficking, not to punish people suffering from the disease of addiction. If we reduce the amount of people sent to prison for drug offenses, we will have more room for real criminals. Sadly, prison sentences often come at a time when the addict is already at the mercy of their addiction. They will be faced with violence and may be victimized.
These things may happen when they may be at their most vulnerable. Being a victim in a sexual, emotional or physical way may drive them to more drug seeking behavior. Many people still expect the prison experience to scare the addict straight. Their thinking is if they experience the worst there, they won’t want to return. Isn’t this just further victimization of someone who is already a victim of their disease. In most of our prisons drug treatment and rehabilitation are not offered to inmates, even though studies have shown that effective treatment can decrease future drug use and drug-related criminal behavior.
One study done at Columbia found that only 11% of inmates with substance use disorders received treatment at federal and state prisons and in local jails. It has also been proven that addicts pressured to undergo treatment by the legal system often fare as well as those who seek treatment voluntarily. Doesn’t it make more sense to provide treatment in these facilities if we are sending addicts there? Or better yet, should we first send addicts convicted of drug offenses to rigorous in-patient treatment followed by after care and probation?