Pubdate: Wed, 10 Apr 2002
Source: Green Bay Press-Gazette (WI)
Copyright: 2002 Green Bay Press-Gazette
Author: Robert Sharpe
Bookmark: (Incarceration)


WASHINGTON, D.C. - Regarding your April 4 editorial, many states facing 
budget shortfalls are pursuing alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent 
drug offenders. At an average cost of $25,000 per inmate, prison cells are 
hardly ideally health interventions. 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 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
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