Jail vs. Treatment for Drug Offenders

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.

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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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