There is much speculation over society’s natural tendency to demonize someone who has the courage to say, “I’m an addict”. For those who admit to alcoholism and ask for help, there tends to be a greater feeling of support and sympathy from others. Outside of recovery circles, however, the public tends to want to treat those addicted to drugs in courts of law, not detoxification and rehab centers.
Is it because alcohol is legal, while drugs are not? Is it because our country is battling a “War on drugs” that make it seem so criminal? Could it be the government mandated increase in the number of judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officials to take a stronger stance against drugs?
If you love an addict or you’re struggling with an addiction yourself, chances are you understand the grip an addiction has on you: it causes irrational behavior that a sober-you would never validate. Millions of Americans are suffering from drug addictions, but this does not mean they are inherently bad people. In a 2015 interview with CNN, President Bill Clinton acknowledged the mass incarceration that has taken place due to drug abuse in the United States, even stating “Our prisons and our jails are now mental health institutions.” – meaning the incarceration approach has failed our nation.
A drug addiction requires treatment and support, two things that a jail cell does not provide. Incarceration in the confines of a tiny cell invites fear, anger, isolation, and confusion – all driving factors for continued drug use. It forces people who are struggling with a disease to spend time with others who have committed considerably worse crimes – encouraging them to develop violent criminal tendencies. Once an inmate is removed from society for so long, then reintegrated, they are likely to use drugs again as a means of coping. Incarceration simply does not address the root of the addiction the same way rehabilitation does.
Rehab, on the other hand, offers a supportive environment for those fighting substance abuse issues. It provides an individualized plan for each new client to best meet their immediate needs. Clients can meet with therapists, doctors, nurses, and life coaches that will assist them through each step of the process. When everyone agrees that the rehabilitation stage is complete, rehabs then work with the client to teach them proper life skills to stay sober and avoid relapse.
In 2016, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates pointed out a steady decline in federal prison population thanks to revised drug sentencing guidelines and revised policies for low-level nonviolent drug offenders. Her point was clear: too many prisons are locking people up for the wrong kind of behavior.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, someone with an out-of-control addiction will commit as many as 63 crimes a year. If this number can be cut in half by referring offenders to drug rehab treatment instead of jail, crime rates can be reduced considerably.