In 1995, Paul Free of California was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. His offense? Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance (marijuana), a nonviolent crime. Compare that to the sentence of Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner. In June he was sentenced to just six months in prison after having been convicted for intent to commit rape of an intoxicated/unconscious person, penetration of an intoxicated person and penetration of an unconscious person. It’s no secret that tens of thousands of men and women are currently locked up for non-violent drug offenses. According to sentencingproject.org, “half of the people in federal prisons are serving time for a drug offense.” Some are serving terms that will last for a decade or more. Yes, it is illegal to possess heroin and other drugs, and that in and of itself is a crime, but is prison time the right course of action for those who are clearly suffering from drug addiction? Addiction is now recognized as a mental illness and should be treated as any other illness. As we as a country reevaluate the war on drugs, should we be treating those with addiction as criminals or should we be providing treatment? Are prison reform programs successful?
The National Institute of Justice has stated that within five years of release, more than 75% of released prisoners are rearrested. One reason may be because of a lack of drug addiction treatment in prisons. After release, prisoners are expected to reintegrate into society, and often times, this leads them right back to their old way of life, especially if they do not have a support system in place. President Obama himself has said that addiction should be viewed as a public health issue and not a criminal one. Just this past September he released over one hundred prisoners that were serving long prison sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. Some of these prisoners were sentenced to life, and even though many states have reduced or eliminated minimum sentences for these crimes, those who were sentenced before the revision remained incarcerated with no revision to the sentence they received. At a town hall meeting, the President said, ““I am a very strong believer that the path we have taken in the United States in the so-called war on drugs has been so heavy in emphasizing incarceration that it has been counterproductive,” he said. “You have young people who did not engage in violence who get very long penalties, who get placed in prison and then are rendered economically unemployable, are almost pushed into the underground economy, learn crime more effectively in prison — families are devastated. So it’s been very unproductive.”
Many think that while in jail, inmates receive proper drug addiction treatment, however, this is not the case. In a study conducted in 2010, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that less than 15% of inmates dealing with drug addiction were receiving treatment during their incarceration. This statistic shows how the current system is failing our addicts. With the opioid crisis in full swing in America, officials are opening a dialog about treatment and how we can keep addicts out of prison and help them attain and maintain sobriety. In one prison in Kentucky, they have developed a program to help incarcerated addicts that reduce the rate of reentry from 70% to 10%. They use a combination of traditional therapy, support groups, and Vivitrol injections before and after release. Vivitrol is a drug that blocks the effects of opiates for up to thirty days. While the medication is not recommended as the only form of treatment for drug addiction and an addict needs to experience the combination of therapy and the 12-steps, this prison is at least beginning to change the conversation about drug addiction and offer a solution. This new program helps inmates accomplish the daunting task of reintegrating back into society while maintaining their hard-fought sobriety. One inmate who successfully completed the program said that his focus has shifted from getting high no matter the cost, to helping others. With the help of his support group, he is no longer using drugs and is even back in school.
This shift in focus from punishment to treatment has proven to be a success and is due in part to the scientific research that has proven that drug addiction is a disease, not a crime. Studies have shown that those suffering from drug addiction have actually experienced a change in their brain causing them to view their drug as necessary for survival. This leads to them doing things they never thought that they would in order to get high. It takes at least thirty days for the brain to improve and heal. This is why proper long -term treatment and support is so crucial to overcoming drug addiction. Lawmakers and citizens alike are working to improve access to treatment facilities, and also to reduce the stigma associated with addiction. Many addicts feel ashamed and judged, and are hesitant to seek help for these reasons. Many also feel that drug addiction is something that they can overcome on their own. That is why it is so important for people to be educated on the signs and symptoms of addiction, and on how to help others who are struggling.
With the success of the rehabilitation program at Kenton County, Kentucky Jail, it is the hope of many that other prisons will adopt similar programs to combat the drug addiction problem already within the system. This will not only help addicts overcome, but reduce prison populations across the country. It is also crucial that the public is educated on the topic of drug addiction being a disease and not a crime. There has long been the attitude that those in jail deserve to be there, and many assume that they will get clean and sober and remain that way after release. Even though this attitude is slowly changing, for many it is already too late. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, please seek help. With drug addiction at an all-time high in the United States, we must all work together to ensure the health and safety of one another.
Contact Clearbrook Now!
Are you or a loved one suffering from drug addiction and/or alcoholism? Please allow Clearbrook Treatment Centers to help you. We have been providing effective treatment for more than 40 years. If you are ready for a change, contact our Admissions Specialists today. We are available 24 hours a day.
ARE YOU OR SOMEONE YOU CARE ABOUT STRUGGLING WITH DRUGS OR ALCOHOL?
CALL CLEARBROOK TREATMENT CENTERS NOW AT 1-800-582-6241.