Punishment Isn't Enough To Halt Drug Abuse 

Punishment Isn't Enough To Halt Drug Abuse 
Posted by FoM on September 05, 1999 at 12:14:38 PT
Source: News Choice
WE have had a hard time getting the so-called War on Drugs right. Public policy has been a pendulum swing between extremes since the 1960s, and America has learned that tolerance without being tough is as bad as toughness without offering treatment. 
We also have seen our country become the largest market in the world for illicit drugs. Experts now are looking to a system that blends law enforcement, education and treatment. They say it's time to balance the extremes with a more thoughtful, thorough "stick-and-carrot" approach. The first part of Reporter Matthew B. Stannard's two-day ANG Newspapers package concludes that the War on Drugs declared by President George Bush 10 years ago has for the most part been a bust. We've spent much to produce little. The most obvious consequence has been prisons packed with people whose crimes were drug related. Our nation's prison population has more than doubled, jumping from 750,000 inmates in 1985 to 1.8 million. We spend $39 billion a year to operate prisons and jails that cost $7 billion less than 20 years ago. California alone coughs up $5 billion a year. And, prisons have run out of room. We can't build them fast enough to keep up with the influx. Even sadder is that we make minimal efforts to reverse drug dependency once people enter the legal system. Eight in 10 prisoners use drugs, but only one in 10 gets substance abuse treatment while in custody. And we wonder why so many of them repeat criminal patterns and end up being recycled into the prison system. If they had substance abuse problems when they went in, they have them when they come out. It is a vicious cycle we're doing almost nothing to stop. "Just tossing people in prison is not the answer," says one savvy Oakland narcotics officer. Even Gen. Barry McCaffrey, President Clinton's drug czar, admits "we cannot arrest our way out of the problem of chronic drug abuse and drug-driven crime." More resources need to be put into treatment if we're going to lower drug-use figures, which haven't dropped significantly since 1971. That is where drug courts, prison treatment programs and tough residential programs that hold addicts and users accountable come into play. Experts say the melding of treatment, responsibility and punishment works. Drug courts such as the one established in Alameda County in 1991 have "reduced recidivism by 50 percent at one-tenth the cost of incarceration." Such programs reduce crime and drug use while saving tax dollars. So much so that McCaffrey plans to up federal support of drug courts 25 percent, to $50 million per annum. That is definitely a step in the right direction, but too little money, given the $17.8 billion drug enforcement budget. Investing in treatment makes economic sense. Residential programs that include vocational training cost $6,500 a year per inmate. But the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University says each inmate who stays straight one year saves taxpayers $68,800 in wages, health care, reduced prison costs and lowered crime. At that 10:1 rate of return, we are foolish not to divert more money toward such programs. Only 34 percent of next year's federal drug budget goes to treatment, prevention and research. Sixty-six percent is earmarked to halt drug traffic. The budget is imbalanced. Lower the demand and you shrink the supply. We need to shift more resources to treatment and prevention. Such steps bear the additional benefits of reducing crime and costs. Treatment does not mean that society forgives criminals their drug-related crimes. Americans want punishment to be part of the consequence of such acts. But if we're to get at the roots of such problems, salvage as many lives as we can, break the cycle of recidivism and lower costs, then we must rely on treatment, education and prevention. Punishment alone isn't enough. We only have to survey the results of the current War on Drugs to realize that.Sunday September 05, 1999 1999 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and ANG Newspapers
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