The increase of people in jail has exploded right along with the drug epidemic in our country.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), along with many other institutions, states most inmates are in prison because of substance abuse. According to NCADD, approximately 60% of individuals arrested test positive for illegal substances at the time of arrest. Nearly half of those incarcerated are clinically addicted, and 80% of all crime offences stem from drug or alcohol abuse.
This is a huge issue.
Those that commit crimes under the influence of drugs or alcohol have underling problems that need to be addressed. Yes, justice has to be served for the crime committed, but are we doing justice to the individual or to society when we throw them people in prison without addressing the underlying problem? Problems with addiction do not go away when one serves a jail term. The U.S. Justice Department claims that two-thirds of those in jail for drug related crimes will return to prison within three years of being released, therefore becoming repeat offenders. Of these, half are sent back to prison for failing a drug test while on probation or parole.
Not only is does the individual not learn how to be a productive member of society while incarcerated, but this is also not good for society, to have people on the street that are addicts and repeatedly committing crimes. When looking at the big picture, incarceration is expensive, and does not seem to change things for the better. One state saw a decrease from $20,000 to $4,000 for opting for drug treatment instead of incarceration. California mandated that those entering the justice system for drug related crimes be given a sentence of substance abuse treatment instead of a prison sentence. It was costly to set up this program, but in the long run will save the state over $150 million per year.
In a study published in Crime & Delinquency, researchers found that if just ten percent of offenders were treated in a drug treatment program instead of going to prison, the justice system would save $4.8 billion. If forty percent received drug treatment, the total savings would be around $12.9 billion. Gary Zarkin, vice president of the Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice Research Division at RTI said, “Given the obvious burden on the criminal justice system and society caused by substance abuse within this population, diverting offenders to effective and targeted substance abuse treatment leads to less drug use, fewer crimes, and cost savings.”
The cost of prison and savings if drug treatment plans are implemented are in black and white. Drugs and alcohol alter a person’s thought pattern and decision making. Mandating drug treatment plans instead of the traditional jail sentence can change lives, improve society, and save billions.