Are They Really Criminals? Depends on Who You Ask…

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

Addiction is killing tens of thousands across the country each year. Jails nationwide are filled with people struggling with substance abuse. Millions aren’t getting the treatment they need.

What’s the solution?

That’s a hotly debated question. Long before the opioid epidemic hit the US, people disagreed about the best way to handle chemical dependency. Some say jail is necessary; others say it does more harm than good. There are strong arguments for both sides. Let’s go over the highlights…

Treatment, Not Punishment

The American College of Physicians points out that only 18 percent of those struggling with substance abuse get the professional help they need. Many are simply thrown in jail, where they go in addicted and come out addicted. Jails don’t offer enough quality treatment options. Nothing’s changed when convicts are released, so they simply return to their previous lifestyle. How does this system help anyone?

Proponents of treatment over jail time believe that treating substance abuse disorders provides a better outcome. According to statistics provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, for every dollar we spend on treatment, our society saves $7 down the road in crime and jail costs. With effective treatment options in place, society should see a reduction in prison populations, fewer visits to ERs, and less demand on probation and psychiatric services.

If You Do the Crime…

Advocates for jail time point out that these people are, like it or not, committing crimes. Often, they’re breaking the law repeatedly. Should they be exempt from the law just because they’re chemically dependent? Do we want to send the message that you won’t face the consequence of jail if you’re addicted?

Those involved in the legal system point out that few people go to jail for drug use alone. Law enforcement officials typically focus on dealers and crimes that are often motivated by drugs, such as robbery. Proponents of we need to punish those who commit these crimes, not let them off the hook because they’re hooked on drugs. Anyone breaking the law should pay the penalty, right?

Others point out that jail provides a form of motivation for those struggling with substance abuse. The threat of incarceration, or incarceration itself, may serve as the catalyst some need to enter treatment. In this way, jail time can be a valuable tool, providing the push needed to make positive change.

Which Side Are You On?

With valid arguments on both sides, it’s a tough call. And considering the complex nature of addiction and its treatment process, should it come as a surprise to learn we’re left with more questions than answers? Where should our country focus its efforts?

We want to know what you think. Leave your comments and potential solutions in the comments section below.

Additional Reading:   Send Me to Jail – I Want to Get Clean and Sober

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