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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Losing the war at home

 
 

In October 1982, President Ronald Reagan unveiled his strategy for fighting drug addiction in the United States. Known as the War on Drugs, the policy – adopted to varying extents by Reagan’s successors – stressed criminalization over treatment. Proponents of the costly policy succeeded in spinning the issue of illegal drug use into a political who-is-tougher-on-crime contest, sweeping ideas of substance treatment instead of incarceration from both major parties’ platforms. However, statistics have consistently shown that this policy, while well-intentioned, is ineffective. Addiction is a disease, as defined by the American Medical Association, and it should be solved by professionals, not prison terms.
According to a study recently released by the Center for Court Innovation, nonviolent drug offenders who complete supervised treatment are significantly less likely to become repeat offenders than those who serve prison time. In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President George W. Bush spoke of the need for government funds to help released prisoners adjust to their return into society. If rehabilitation is the goal of our legal system and the government intends to prevent the number of second- and third-time offenders, treatment must be given to those addicted to illegal substances.
Currently, two-thirds of drug control appropriations are spent on law enforcement, and only one-third on treatment and prevention, according to PBS.org. A significant amount of these funds should be diverted from use in criminal punishment, where millions of dollars are spent and few addictions are overcome, and invested in practical treatment, such as those seen in state-run drug courts.
The first drug court was established in Florida in 1989 as a welcome middle ground between the conservative tough-on-crime facade of the drug war and the rash call of some liberals for legalization of some controlled substances. There are approximately 1,000 drug courts nationwide, located in 49 states. Judges and probation officers refer nonviolent offenders with a history of drug use to a drug court where their criminal records and substance abuse background is reviewed.
Contrary to what is seen in traditional court settings, the defense as well as the prosecution work with the judge to determine the appropriate treatment. Probation officers monitor each offender’s progress with frequent drug testing and weekly meetings with the judges. The offender attends individual and group counseling and can graduate from the program after one year of full compliance. Failure to meet the judge’s guidelines can result in jail time, fines, inpatient treatment or community service.
Drug courts provide what Judge Peter Anderson, who presides over two drug courts in Massachusetts, calls “treatment with teeth.” According to Anderson, complete decriminalization of illegal substances would not be in the best interest of the nation or the addicts, considering that about 80 to 90 percent of those who enter voluntary treatment leave before the end of the year. With prison time being the alternative, treatment coordinated and monitored by drug courts may appear much more attractive to addicts.
As far as funding the treatment provided by drug courts, the numbers speak for themselves. Treatment for drug addiction costs $1,800 to $6,800 per year per person, depending on the need of each addict, compared to an average of $25,900 per year spent on the incarceration of one person. Despite the cost-effectiveness as well as the reduction of recidivism seen in drug courts, lack of funding around the nation has obstructed the opening of additional drug courts. The Texas legislature has mandated counties with a population of more than 550,000 to open drug courts, but did not earmark the mandate with funds to foot the bill, according to The Houston Chronicle. Considering the unfunded mandates states have received from the national government, it is not surprising to see Texas following the trend by handing out one of its own to several counties.
There is a common axiom that states, “When solving problems, dig at the roots instead of just hacking at the leaves.” To get to the root of the drug addiction problem in our country, Amerca must attack it at its roots. Treatment solves addiction, while locking up nonviolent drug offenders does not. It is time for this country to look past traditional tough-on-crime rhetoric and put forth real solutions.

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