The debate over whether we should offer treatment or punishment to drug-motivated criminals is still causing a stir. There are many people that support treating addicts that have committed crimes, but just as many people feel we should not give these people any special care.
Drug Related Crime
There are an estimated 2.3 million inmates in the U.S., and more than half of them are there because of drug-related crimes. This shouldn’t come as a surprise – drugs make people do dumb things. Crimes are committed because an addict is desperate to get their hands on more drugs, or are not thinking clearly because they are high. Many burglaries, accidents, and fights or murders are a direct result of the control drugs have on people. Drug addicts that receive no treatment for their substance abuse while in prison or afterward are likely to relapse. A convicted felon may detox in prison, but even after years of being clean from the substance, when they reenter society, many go right back to the drugs and most likely back to their life of crime. In fact, 50% of inmates will turn back to crime and drugs once they get out of prison. The vicious cycle of putting felons in prison, letting them out after their sentence is up, and catching them for the same kinds of crimes has many people thinking there must be a better way.
Pros and Cons of Treatment
Treatment while in prison and afterward is a solution that definitely helps. Detox alone doesn’t heal lives destroyed by drug abuse, but counseling and therapy do help. These addicts need to learn how to stay drug free, and how to live a healthy life. Addicts have a disease that has changed their brain chemistry, and will only get better with treatment.
But providing treatment for criminals in prison or instead of prison is not the solution everyone would like to see. Some people can’t get past the fact that these people committed crimes and deserve to be punished. Others feel that providing treatment instead of punishment is being soft on drugs, leading others to try to get away with more. Still others can’t support spending all the money up front that is necessary to treat inmates.
Stopping the Cycle
We have to keep going back to the effects of substance abuse on the human body. People that are addicted to drugs lose control of their lives. Only the drugs matter – stealing money for drugs, lashing out at or abusing others that stand in their way, or hurting innocent people are all consequences of a mind that is influenced by drugs. We don’t have to go easy on drug addict criminals, but we do need to keep them from hurting any more people. The most effective way to stop the drug/prison cycle is to treat with rehab. Recidivism rates go down 30% among those that receive treatment.
Money is a big concern in the prison systems right now, and only 1/5 of drug addicted inmates get help for their drug problem. Many states, struggling with budget cuts and money constraints, have been quick to cut funding for treating inmates. In the long run, however, treatment is the way to go. It is cheaper to treat than incarcerate, and the money saved from not having to arrest and imprison these people over and over again will save a substantial amount of money.