Pubdate: Mon, 08 Apr 2002
Source: Union, The (CA)
Contact:  2002 Nevada County Publishing Company
Author: Robert Sharpe


The Nevada County Drug Court is definitely a step in the right direction, 
but an arrest should not be a necessary prerequisite for drug treatment. 
Fear of criminal sanctions compels many problem drug users to suffer in 
silence. 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. Most nonviolent drug offenders are eventually released, 
with dismal job prospects due to criminal records. Turning recreational 
drug users into unemployable ex-cons 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 torn apart? How many 
tax dollars would be wasted turning potentially productive members of 
society into hardened criminals?

Robert Sharpe, Program Officer, Drug Policy Alliance, Washington, D.C.
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