Pubdate: Wed, 20 Mar 2002
Source: Ithaca Times (NY)
Copyright: Ithaca Times 2002
Author: Robert Sharpe


The Tompkins County Felony Drug Treatment Court mentioned in your Feb. 27 
article is a step in the right direction, but an arrest should not be a 
necessary prerequisite for cost-effective drug treatment. Fear of criminal 
sanctions compels many problem drug users to suffer in silence. Would 
alcoholics seek treatment for their illness if doing so were tantamount to 
confessing to criminal activity?

Likewise, would putting every incorrigible alcoholic behind bars 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 drug treatment relies upon can backfire 
when it's actually put to use. Prisons transmit violent habits and values 
rather than reduce them. Non-violent drug offenders are eventually 
released, with dismal job prospects due to criminal records. Turning 
recreational drug users into hardened criminals is a senseless waste of tax 

At present there is a glaring double standard in place. Alcohol and tobacco 
are by far the two deadliest recreational drugs, yet the government does 
not actively try to destroy the lives of drinkers and smokers. It's time to 
declare peace in the failed drug war and begin treating all substance 
abuse, legal or otherwise, as the public health problem it is.

Robert Sharpe, M.P.A.

Program Officer Drug Policy Alliance
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