Jail vs. Treatment for Drug Offenders - Treatment Solutions
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Jail vs. Treatment for Drug Offenders

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The addiction to drugs is a difficult thing for any individual to deal with.  Often, addiction leads to the decline of a person’s well-being, financial security, and health.  Drug addicts have a hard time keeping a job, their families suffer the consequences, and sometimes the addicts find themselves either in trouble with the law, or homeless on the street.

The issue of treating drug abusers has been discussed in great detail in our country for decades.  There are those that say we should buckle down on drug users and increase our illegal drug enforcement in order to put all those drug-using criminals behind bars.  However, those that just want to lock up every drug addict are ignoring the fact that drug addiction is a sickness, and without proper treatment, the user will find themselves back on the streets using drugs once they are out of jail.

New help for drug addicts

The idea of treatment vs. jail is one that has come up numerous times in the last few months, as our country struggles with the best way to get drug addicts back on their feet again.  New York has recently relaxed laws that date back to the 1970s in order to allow judges to send addict law-breakers to treatment programs, rather than to jail.

Other states and countries are looking into different options also.  In Australia, where 70-80% of prisoners are incarcerated because of drug problems, community-based treatment centers are now being offered to those that have served time because of drug related crimes.

Texas is taking a hard look at what they can do to help those with drug addiction that have found themselves chronically homeless, or caught in the cycle of going to jail for drug possession, then back to being homeless and doing drugs, and so on.  One of their answers is to solve the housing problem, and then get these people into drug treatment, rather than send them straight to jail.

Cost effective treatment

Overall, it would save states money to focus on fixing the underlying problem of drug addiction, rather than try to manage drug addicts with jail time.  If we look at the cost for the court system, law enforcement, jail time, and emergency health care and shelter for those that go right back to drug abuse once they are out of jail; the cost of simply putting a drug addict in jail really adds up.

On the other hand, if a drug addict is sent to a treatment facility where they can get the help they need to overcome drug addiction, the individual stands a chance to get back out into the world and contribute in a positive way to society.  In New York’s estimation, sending those convicted of nonviolent drug crimes to treatment rather than jail will save the state a quarter of a billion dollars a year.  Financially in the long run, and for the benefit of the addict, it seems addiction treatment rather than jail is the way to go.


NY eases drug laws, sees annual savings of $250 mln Mar 27, 2009
Popple, Garth Rehab, not jail, best for drug abuse March 28, 2009
Pulkkinen, Levi Change in D.C. stirs state drug policy debate March 26, 2009

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Leah Miranda

This article was written by Leah Miranda

Leah joined American Addiction Centers in 2012 and currently holds the position of Events and Social Media Manager. After earning her Bachelor's degree in history, with a minor in teaching, she began her career in the higher education system. Her passion for connecting with people soon led her the field of marketing and social media where she is able to communicate with and inspire others daily. Connect with Leah on Google+


treatment (treatment)March 31, 2009 at 10:43 pmReply

Jail Vs Treatment
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MikeApril 3, 2009 at 8:38 amReply

Thanks so much for the great article. This issue has been around for quite sometime. Hopefully with more articles like this people will begin to understand, or at least accept alcoholism and drug addiction as a disease and not a weakness.

JaredApril 3, 2009 at 8:52 amReply

Absolutely, I personally believe that people should suffer consequences for their actions… That is part of the recovery process… A balance needs to be drawn between the severity of the crime committed and the punishment for that crime. For most drug offenders treatment is a much better option for society than jail and statistics prove that to be a reality.

Do I think that a drunk driver who ends up driving drunk and injuring or killing someone else should be offered treatment only? No I think that person needs to suffer the consequences of their action AND receive treatment for their disease and the opportunity to turn a negative into a positive for society. I think that in many areas we are too quick to place low level offenders in jail and expect that will solve the problem. In most cases it simply makes it worse.

If the drug or alcohol crime does not victimize others I do not believe that Jail will help at all. We see here every day that people recover from addiction and go on to lead happy and productive lives, usually in a position where they are actually giving back to society

kathleen dudleyOctober 15, 2009 at 4:29 amReply

My brother is an alcoholic and has lost everything his house, his marriage, access to his beloved daughter.I cannot even imagine the pain of his everyday. Jail time for DWI has only marginalized him more and more and made it almost imposible to recover. The way we as a society deal with addiction is still in the dark ages. Alcoholism and drug addiction are diseases. The alcoholic cannot advocate for themselves because denial is part of the disease. Society stigmatizes and marginalizes these poor people with this terrible affliction instead of helping them. I feel the treatment or lack of treatment for addictive diseases creates the crimes of the of addicted.We as a society are to blame. Jail time does not work and the taxpayers are paying for it.

wilson thomasDecember 5, 2009 at 8:15 amReply

the solution is simple just dont do it and just dont drink it, one should have never tried it in the first place. i dont know why alcohol and drugs arent banned in the U.S or any other country. if it was there would be less drunk ppl in the streets and less crime.

Amber BeecherJanuary 7, 2010 at 10:43 pmReply

This article really hit home. I am a recovering meth addict, and I have completely turned my life around, and I’m now going to school to become a chemical dependency counselor. Unfortunatly, it took me going to prison for 2yrs to get my life back. In the process though I lost my children, damaged the relationship with my family, and lost sight of hope. While incarcerated, I went through drug and alcohol treatment. Prison alone would not have been enough to get me back on track. Treatment is an essential need for addicts, without it the underlying issues will not get addressed and an addict will just go back to their old ways. I hope to one day be able to help one addicted mother, daughter, sister or wife be able to live to share their story. Thanks so much for the article.