What to do about drug addicts? Lock them up, let them out and watch them commit more crimes?
Newsweek has a great article this week arguing that the costs of treating drug addiction in prison saves money and cuts crime in the long-run. The article notes that nationally only one-fifth of inmates get drug treatment, even though nearly half of the 2.3 million people in prison nationwide have a history of drug addiction. While not all of those people are incarcerated for drug offenses, many crimes — like burglary — are fueled by addiction.
Drug treatment programs — just like other safety net programs – help prevent crime and continued drug abuse. But these programs are often the first things on the chopping block as state legislators struggle with budget deficits:
The irony here is that by lowering recidivism, the programs themselves save money in the long run. The NIDA report released last year cited a remarkable statistic: heroin addicts who received no treatment in jail were seven times as likely as treated inmates to become re-addicted, and three times as likely to end up in prison again. For every dollar spent, the programs save $2 to $6 by reducing the costs of re-incarceration, according to Human Rights Watch. Looked at another way, the programs can save the justice system about $47,000 per inmate.
Here’s the problem: Politicians can’t run for office and win on a “Treat them all” mantra. But “lock ‘em up” pays dividends. The best example I can think of is my own hometown sheriff, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio has cost the county millions of dollars, has failed to investigate rapes and other serious crimes and abused the power of his office time and time again. But since he puts his low-level jail inmates in pink underwear and feeds them spoiled meat and pledges to round-up illegal landscapers, he gets elected again and again.
We have more people in prison per capita in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world. We must demand that our politicians get smart — rather than continue to be tough and stupid — on crime. Maybe instead of a War on Drugs — which is, really, a War on Drug Users — we should try to truly battle drug addiction.