Substance abusers need help, not jail

September 23, 2013

Dear Editor,

To those affected by the disease of addiction, the number of people missing from American communities due to imprisonment for drug related offenses is heart-breaking. This country has fought many wars, some were won, and others lost, but the present strategy to defeat the epidemic use of drugs in America is comparable to an ostrich sticking its head in the sand and waiting for the danger to pass by.

In fact, a 2004 Department of Justice survey reported that 53 percent of state and 45 percent of federal prisoners met DSM-IV criteria for a drug use disorder. Approximately one-third of inmates resume substance abuse within the first two months of their release, and 95 percent of those incarcerated return to drug use within three years of their release. The total number of people serving time in U.S. prisons as of 1999 was two million people and counting. That means at least one million prisoners abuse drugs. The present way of fighting addiction guarantees 95 out of every 100 prisoners released will return to abusing drugs within three years.

However, some states like California have removed their heads from the sand. They realized that the tremendous amount of resources which are being expended to confine those who abuse drugs can be diverted to programs that treat the individual’s problems. Drug Courts in a California study diverted non-violent offenders from the criminal justice system into abstinence-based and employed court-supervised, intensive outpatient treatment programs. In California, core activities for all participants included a psychosocial assessment, regular court appearances, random drug testing, and attendance at group counseling, individual counseling, 12-step meetings, and vocational training. Elective activities included life skills training, educational training, family counseling, and stress and anger management. Ninety-four individuals successfully completed the 18 month outpatient program and their criminal charges were dropped. Ninety-six individuals failed to complete the program and were returned to the Criminal Justice system for prosecution, according to the study.

In the final analysis, we are spending money on programs that are 95 percent ineffective, when there are programs that could be 50 percent effective. Those who are being locked-up are human beings who need help. They have mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, they have wives, husbands, sons, and daughters. For every person spending time behind bars in our great nation, there are many who wait for them. Why is America afraid to seek victory in a war that has claimed over one million of our neighbors, our friends, and our family members?

One of the five percent

Richard A. Bare