Pubdate: Mon, 12 Nov 2001
Source: Beacon Journal, The (OH)
Copyright: 2001 The Beacon Journal Publishing Co.
Author: Robert Sharpe
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)


Akron Municipal Court Judge Marvin Shapiro is doing the right thing by 
giving drug offenders a second chance to get treatment ("Drug offenders 
offered amnesty," Akron Beacon Journal, Oct. 30). Relapse is part of 
recovery, and Akron's drug court is definitely a step in the right 
direction. But an arrest should not be a necessary prerequisite for 
treatment. Would alcoholics seek treatment for their illness if doing so 
were tantamount to confessing to criminal activity? Likewise, would putting 
every incorrigible alcoholic behind bars and saddling them with criminal 
records prove cost-effective?

The United States recently earned the dubious distinction of having the 
highest incarceration rate in the world, with drug offenses accounting for 
the majority of federal incarcerations. This is big government at its 
worst. At an average cost of $25,071 per inmate annually, maintaining the 
world's largest prison system can hardly be considered fiscally conservative.

The threat of prison that coerced treatment relies upon can backfire when 
it's actually put to use. Prisons transmit violent habits and values rather 
than reduce them. Most drug offenders are eventually released, with dismal 
job prospects due to criminal records. Turning nonviolent drug offenders 
into hardened criminals is a senseless waste of tax dollars.

At present, there is a glaring double standard in place. Alcohol and 
tobacco are the two deadliest recreational drugs, yet government does not 
make it its business to destroy the lives of drinkers and smokers. It's 
time to declare peace in the failed drug war and begin treating all 
substance abuse, legal or otherwise, as the public health problem it is.

Robert Sharpe

Washington, D.C.

Editor's note: The writer is program officer with the Lindesmith 
Center-Drug Policy Foundation, an organization that describes itself as 
dedicated to broadening and informing public debate on drugs.
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