Pubdate: Tue, 04 Dec 2001
Source: Herald-Dispatch, The (WV)
Copyright: 2001 The Herald-Dispatch
Author: Robert Sharpe


Your Nov. 27 editorial mentioned the possibility of alternatives to 
incarceration for nonviolent offenders as a way of reducing the tax burden 
on Cabell County residents.

A good place to start would be treating substance abuse as a public health 
issue rather than a criminal-justice problem. The drug war is the main 
reason the United States now has the highest incarceration rate in the 
world. At an average cost of $25,071 per inmate annually, maintaining the 
world's largest prison system can hardly be considered fiscally 
conservative. And putting nonviolent offenders behind bars with hardened 
criminals is a dangerous proposition.

Prisons transmit violent habits and values rather than reduce them. Most 
nonviolent drug offenders are eventually released, with dismal job 
opportunities due to criminal records. Turning recreational drug users into 
violent criminals is not a good use of tax dollars.

At present, there is a glaring double standard in place. Alcohol and 
tobacco are by far the two deadliest drugs, yet the government does not 
make it its business to actively destroy the lives of drinkers and smokers. 
Would alcoholics even seek treatment for their illness if doing so were 
tantamount to confessing to criminal activity?

Robert Sharpe

Program Officer The Lindesmith Center Drug Policy Foundation

Washington, D.C.
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