Pubdate: Thu, 26 Apr 2001
Source: Reno Gazette-Journal (NV)
Copyright: 2001 Reno Gazette-Journal
Author: Robert Sharpe,


Assembly Bill 574, which would expand drug court programs in Reno and
Las Vegas, is definitely a step in the right direction. The drug war has
not stopped the flow of drugs, but it has earned America the dubious
distinction of having 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. An
arrest should not be a necessary prerequisite for drug treatment. For
drug treatment to be truly effective, policymakers are going to have to
tone down the tough-on-drugs rhetoric. Would alcoholics seek treatment
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 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. Politically popular mandatory minimums have turned
many a taxpaying recreational drug user into a long-term tax burden.
It's time to declare peace in the failed drug war and start treating all
substance abuse, legal or otherwise, as the public health problem it is.

Robert Sharpe, program officer
The Lindesmith Center
Drug Policy Foundation
Washington, D.C.
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