Pubdate: Tue, 26 Feb 2002
Source: Oak Ridger (TN)
Copyright: 2002 The Oak Ridger
Author: Robert Sharpe
Bookmark: (Treatment)
Bookmark: (Incarceration)


To The Oak Ridger: This is a response to the editorial "Jail overcrowding 
needs" published as Another View on Feb. 15, 2002.

Tennessee is not the only state grappling with overcrowded prisons. Many 
states facing budget shortfalls are pursuing alternatives to incarceration 
for nonviolent drug offenders.

Unfortunately, an arrest is oftentimes a necessary prerequisite for 
cost-effective drug treatment. Fear of criminal sanctions compels many 
problem drug users to suffer in silence. Toning down the zero tolerance 
rhetoric would help facilitate rehabilitation.

The option of increased drug treatment alternatives would do more than save 
taxpayers money. Public safety is at stake. Prisons transmit violent habits 
rather than reduce them. Minor drug offenders are eventually released, with 
dismal job prospects due to criminal records. Turning recreational drug 
users into career criminals is a senseless waste of tax dollars.

At present there is a glaring double standard in place. 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 would 
be torn apart? How many tax dollars would be wasted turning potentially 
productive members of society into hardened criminals?

Robert Sharpe, M.P.A., Program officer, Drug Policy Alliance,, Washington, D.C.
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