There are approximately 31 million people, that is 1 in 10, in the US that have drug charges. According to the CDC, in 2016 more than 1 million people were arrested for driving under the influence. It can be difficult to try and navigate how to get back to life with drug charges and DUI or DWIs on your record. For repeat offenders it can be even more difficult.
The United States drug and alcohol-related sentencing laws vary state by state. They do have driving forces in common, however. To begin, the “War on Drugs” is a policy that was initiated by Richard Nixon, or Tricky Dick, with the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. Ronald Reagan vigorously supported this policy. Then in 1986, Reagan passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act. A problem with both of these policies is they focus on crime and punishment rather than rehabilitation. For example, this Act imposed the same 5 year mandatory sentence for those convictions involving crack as those possessing 100 times as much powder cocaine. That means sentences for crack cocaine offenders are three to six times longer than those for powder cocaine offenders. This has had a disproportionate effect on addicts and lower-income communities. It isn’t just related to cocaine and crack. The “War on Drugs” dramatically changed the way we “fight” addiction. It elongated drug-related sentences therefore not giving an addict a chance to get help.
These two policies dramatically increased the number of non-violent incarcerations. As of 2008, 90.7% of federal prisoners, or 165,457 individuals, were incarcerated for non-violent offenses. Today 1 in 4 people who go to jail will be rearrested in that same year- most often those dealing with mental health issues, substance abuse problems, or addiction. Senator Cory Booker, in July 2020, said “…war on drugs, which has been profoundly painful to our nation, with a 500 percent increase in incarceration in our country, disproportionately affecting poor and disproportionately affecting minorities,” We have focused mostly on punishment rather than rehabilitation and the only conclusion, looking at the numbers- is that it is not working.
What Changes Have Been Made?
It is a popular thought that sending an addict to jail will help them get clean or scare them straight, but that is not the case. It may serve as a wake up call, but jails and prisons are not equipped to truly help a suffering addict. One study said, an estimated one-half of all prisoners (including some sentenced for other than drug offenses) meet the criteria for diagnosis of drug abuse or dependence. It is a sad statistic, but only 11 percent of those will seek treatment. Another problem with having addicts in prisons is contraband is snuck in all the time. Addicts will find a way to use. In jails and prisons, drug use is there and it can be more dangerous than using on the street. For example, if a needle is smuggled into a jail more than one or two or three people will use it.
Some prisons have made strides to help with this problem. For example, The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has implemented a list of reforms to reverse the growth of the prison population. Rather than prison alone, the state now also has In-Prison Therapeutic Treatment and Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facilities. Texas sees that there is a problem and is trying to address it. Drug laws and punishments range from state to state, but there are some that offer alternative routes. If it is the first offense some states may send an offender to a rehabilitation center for treatment rather than right to jail.
The Federal Government
Has implemented the Residential Drug Abuse Program or RDAP. It is a voluntary, 500-hour, 9-12 month program. It offers individual and group therapies for federal prisoners with substance abuse problems or addictions. This program, unfortunately, is not offered in state prisons. Some correctional facilities are implementing medically-assisted withdrawal programs. Barnstable County Correctional Facility in Massachusetts has seen a 9 percent recidivism rate among Vivitrol recipients, compared to the national rate among drug offenders of 77 percent (within five years). Because Vivitrol is injected instead of administered orally, it can’t be diverted and abused among inmates, making it an excellent option for correctional facilities. It has been on the rise since 2014, with about 50 state prisons and at least 30 jails across the country now offering it as a way to help departing inmates.
There are changes being made. However, we are stuck in the past in terms of crime, punishment, and rehabilitation. Just like long-term drug and alcohol abuse changes the way the brain works chemically, so do jails and prisons. There are still a lot of people that do not understand addiction. Yes, addiction can lead to criminal behavior. But rather than punishing the actions of an addict, shouldn’t we try to treat the problem so the need to commit crime is gone? What we do know for fact is that addicts need treatment.
Treatment Is The Way Out of Addiction
Locking them up and throwing away the key does not solve any problems. It only worsens an addict’s condition, mentally, physically, and emotionally. They say there are three directions addictions can lead you- jail, treatment, or death. Let’s make treatment the first stop for anyone suffering. If you or someone you know is in need of help- reach out. Call: (888) 380-0342