In the United States, we make up 5% of the world s population. We consume 66% of the world s illegal drugs. We incarcerate 25% of the world s prisoners. In a recent study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, it indicated that there are 2.3 million inmates in American prisons. 65% meet the standard criteria for drug and alcohol addiction and abuse. The study further indicates that another 20% of the inmates, who don t meet the addiction criteria, nevertheless are either under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of their crime.
What is most disturbing about the 1.5 million inmates with substance abuse problems is that only 11% receive any treatment while incarcerated. Unfortunately, the treatment they receive oftentimes fails to meet even the minimal professional standards, much less approach the standard of treatment that is provided in places like the Betty Ford Center and Hazeldon. As a result, most inmates who have undergone treatment in prison pick up months or even weeks or days after their release.
The problem is growing. The prison population is rising at a faster pace than that of the general population. The number of inmates with drug and alcohol problems is increasing at an exponential rate.
Whether we want to believe it or not, crime and drugs, including alcohol, are related. Those who committed a crime to get money to buy drugs oftentimes have a rap sheet a mile long. Another disturbing fact is that alcohol is implicated in the incarceration of 57% of all inmates in America.
What troubles me is that we know how to end this tragedy and stop this costly and inhumane revolving door that no one has had the courage to act on. We claim we are concerned about human rights and human dignity, but we continue to overcrowd our prisons with despicable human conditions. We continue to warehouse drug addicts with murderers and rapists, and we wonder why the drug addict has a high recidivism rate for returning to prison.
First we have to agree that our prison system needs to be overhauled. Presently, in our country, it is a multibillion-dollar business that is being scandalously run. Our prisons are overcrowded and understaffed. Our corrections officers are given an inhumane job to perform. Many drug addicts report that drugs are rampant among the prison population and easily accessible from the inside. First and foremost, that issue must be addressed now!
Secondly, as a society, we must recognize that addiction is a complex disease, but scientifically proven prevention and treatment programs can counter it. Additionally, with some creativity and vision, such programs can be used effectively within our criminal justice system.
It would seem to me that common sense would support the treatment of inmates with addictions. Even the most anti-tax, tough on crime person would see that treatment and job training for substance abusers should be a priority issue because these programs reduce both crime and taxes.
The recent study, Behind Bars II: Substance Abuse, and America s Prison Population by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse reveals that drug and alcohol abuse and addiction are implicated in 78% of the violent crimes in our country; 83% of property crimes and 77% of weapon, public disorder and immigration offenses, as well as probation and parole violations.
From my perspective, the continued failure of government to prevent and treat addiction only enables such crimes and reflects an unconscionable misallocation of funds. This same study indicated that federal, state and local governments spent $74 billion in court, probation, parole and incarceration for drug and alcohol offenders. Yet the federal and state governments spent only $632 million less than 1% of that amount on prevention and treatment.
On an average, an active drug addict is conservatively estimated to commit at least a hundred crimes a year. Statisticians tell us that reducing the substance abuse and addiction problem by 11% would eliminate millions of crimes, making it the most effective crime reduction program in our nation s history.
It would make sense to seize the opportunity to provide an effective treatment for drug addicts while incarcerated or offer them an alternative to incarceration that involves comprehensive effective treatment. Unfortunately, few judges provide that mandate or option. They tend to do the opposite. Punishment is a rule of thumb over rehabilitation and treatment.
Probably, the most counterproductive criminal justice policy in our nation is the mandated sentence, which arbitrarily sets the term of incarceration for an offender and requires that it be served in its entirety. Entering recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol is tough enough. Addicts need every kind of support and encouragement to assist them to believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Mandated sentences without treatment, only add fuel to the fire. More often than not, when an addict is released from prison, he or she usually has a very hard time sustaining abstinence and maintaining recovery as they attempt to rebuild their lives. Most relapse and end up violating probation or parole and/or commit new crimes, which only imposes longer sentences the next go-round.
Our District Attorney, Thomas Spota, has taken a courageous step in supporting long-term addiction treatment as an alternative for nonviolent criminals who are addicts. In parts of the county, where treatment over incarceration is the norm, their recidivism rate has been reduced by more than 50%.
Our major problem is that we do not have enough long-term treatment beds to meet the need that is growing exponentially. As we prepare for midterm elections, we must challenge those running for public office to reapportion funds to address this vital social concern. Not to do this, is to act recklessly and irresponsibly.