Pubdate: Thu, 09 May 2002
Source: Daily Messenger (NY)
Copyright: Daily Messenger 2002
Author: Robert Sharpe
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)


"The Threat of Prison that Coerced Treatment Relies Upon Can Backfire When 
It's Actually Put to Use."

Ontario County's 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 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 

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 rather than reduce them. Minor 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. 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, Drug Policy Alliance, Washington, D.C.
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