Roughly 2 million people are imprisoned in the United States Federal Prison system, which equates to about 1 in every 100 adults. Most of them are not violent criminals, such as people who have committed acts of assault, murder, battery, and so on, but instead are of the non-violent type, most of them being drug offenders. It is also the case wherein most people who are caught with drugs for the first time are sent to prison rather than being repeated offenders.
The War on Drugs has nearly quadrupled the amount of people being put into prisons over the last 30 years, causing a serious danger: overcrowding. Most prisons in the country today were built with a planned maximum capacity in mind, and now almost all of them are exceeding their maximum capacity by 30 to 40 percent, and in some cases, some are even going as high as 151 percent.
The budget for federal prisons in 2014 is estimated at around 6.9 billion dollars, which is roughly a quarter of the budget for the fiscal year for the Justice Department.
Drug offenses tend to carry long mandatory minimum sentences, which is the product of years of bipartisan agreement in the government. The 1980s saw a lot of change in this regard, when the drug wars and “crack epidemic” were both at their height.
The Law in the Matter
There was a lot of legislation passed towards people who were considered drug offenders. Legislation came from both sides of the fence, both Democrat and Republican, wherein drug offenders were suddenly diverted from going to psychiatric wards and instead sent to prison. There was also a large amount of both private and federally funded psychiatric wards closing and the inmates being released onto the street. These inmates had both mental and drug abuse problems, and it was only a matter of time before they were picked up by the law.
There is some hope in this subject for the United States. In 2010, Congress passed something called the “Fair Sentencing Act,” which reduced – but did not eliminate – the disparity in sentencing for crack cocaine offenses compared to powder cocaine. Although the differences between crack cocaine and powder cocaine are pretty much nil, Congress sees fit to distinguish between the two in terms of sentencing. It is a step in the right direction, albeit a very minuscule one.
Diverting From the Beaten Path
Several European countries are known for sending drug offenders to treatment facilities rather than to prisons, and the results are plain: the offenders are less apt to relapse back into their old habits of drug usage and, as a result, say on the right side of the law.
If the United States government saw fit to divert money from prisons to new treatment facilities and send non-violent drug offenders there instead of to prison, the results would probably be profound and extremely beneficial to society. First off, it would offer employment to people who are seeking jobs in the field of recovery who are unable to find work due to the fact that there just aren't that many available positions open at the moment from not that many large treatment centers being open.
Prisons are not exactly the ideal place for someone to recover from a drug addiction, let alone reform their lifestyle to one that is concurrent with healthy, drug-free living. Prisons are filled with criminals, and humans are social animals, and when someone who is non-violent gets put into a place filled with people who are violent, it tends to rub off and the non-violent offender may leave with violent tendencies. This is not the way for someone to reform themselves.
Treatment facilities are not prisons. They treat the problem of the drug offender as a medical condition, and thus people are able to find themselves with a new lifestyle that is on the right side of the law and in recovery from drugs; they are presented with a solution rather than a punishment in an extremely hostile environment.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact us.
Cindy Nichols is the founder of 411 Intervention, a full-service intervention resource that helps individuals with addiction issues find treatment solutions. You can see an interview with Cindy here on Recovery Now TV.