Pubdate: Tue, 22 May 2001
Source: Times-News, The (ID)
Copyright: 2001 Magic Valley Newspapers
Author: Robert Sharpe, MPA
Note: Robert Sharpe is a program officer with The Lindesmith Center-Drug 
Policy Foundation.)


Regarding your thoughtful May 15 editorial, drug courts are definitely a 
step in the right direction, but an arrest should not be a necessary 
prerequisite for treatment. Politicians 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 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 non-violent drug offenders 
into hardened criminals is a senseless waste of tax dollars. It's time to 
consider declaring peace in the failed drug war and treating all substance 
abuse, legal or otherwise, as the public health problem it is.
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