Pubdate: Thu, 01 Aug 2002
Source: Greenwich Time (CT)
Copyright: 2002, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc
Author: Robert Sharpe


Drug courts are definitely a step in the right direction (Advocate
editorial, July 25), but an arrest should not be a necessary prerequisite
for drug treatment. Would alcoholics seek help 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. Minor drug offenders are eventually released, with dismal
job prospects resulting from criminal records. Turning users of politically
incorrect drugs into unemployable ex-cons is a senseless waste of tax

Alcohol and tobacco are by far the deadliest recreational drugs, yet the
government does not go out of its way to destroy the lives of drinkers and
smokers. Imagine if every alcoholic were thrown in jail and given a
permanent criminal record. How many lives would be destroyed? How many
families torn apart? How many tax dollars would be wasted turning
potentially productive members of society into hardened criminals?

Robert Sharpe

Washington, D.C.

Via e-mail

The writer is a program officer with the Drug Policy Alliance, a drug policy
reform organization.
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