Punished for a Disease?
If you were ever arrested for your drug use or for a DUI, you probably were court-ordered to go to addiction treatment. However, if you have gotten in trouble with the law repeatedly, there was probably less patience and prison time got longer. Punishing people who are sick doesn’t seem to help them get better. Yet, time and time again, alcoholics and addicts are sent to jail to “pay” for their wrongs and go without much needed drug and alcohol rehab.
Now California is trying something new that may help addicts in the justice system.
Treating Versus Punishing
California has the task of removing tens of thousands of inmates from its prison system because of overcrowding and unsafe conditions. The overcrowding has caused many nonviolent offenders locked up for alcohol- or drug-related charges to receive addiction counseling in front of other inmates. Some inmates don’t even get any type of treatment or counseling because of budget cuts. This breed anger and negativity, which fuels these inmates’ desire to drink and use.
Assembly Bill 109, signed by California Governor Jerry Brown in 2011, is meant to reduce recidivism, the revolving door of inmates in the prison system, and instead give them other alternatives such as drug rehab or alcohol rehab. This would potentially solve more than just the overcrowding and recidivism problem. It would also solve budget issues because treatment would be more cost effective for the state. Nationwide, one study showed that 60 percent of inmates had substance abuse problems, and in just one California county (San Mateo), 90 percent of offenders in the realignment program had substance abuse problems.
Taking Your Best Step Forward
There are still some wrinkles to iron out. Some counties are concentrating on increasing county jail space rather than focusing on rehab treatment. However, California is doing its best to make the changes and make them work. Hopefully, the results lower the number of people punished for having the disease of addiction and get them much needed help.
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