If you’re worried about someone you know who’s taking drugs getting into criminal activity, you have every reason to be. The number of people in prison for drug-related offenses highlights just how many people are actually taking drugs and getting involved in crime – often simply to support their own habit. The prison population is such a heavy financial burden, the laws are starting to loosen up. And, thanks to drug courts, some offenders can now go into a drug addiction treatment center instead of prison.
Lightening up on the laws is definitely called for. A recent article in the magazine Mother Jones chronicled some of the legal changes in the last 20 years and the effect they’ve had on the prison population.
In 1986, for example, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act made the sentence for selling or possessing crack cocaine 100 times stricter than for powdered cocaine. The prison population doubled over the next ten years.
Two years later, the Omnibus Anti-Drug Abuse Act mandated that anyone even loosely connected with the sale or possession of certain quantities of crack would also get a five-year sentence. In other words, if you lived with someone who had five grams of crack on the premises, even if it had nothing to do with you, you could go to prison for five years. In the six years following that law, the number of people in prison for drug offenses quadrupled. And offenders still didn’t have the option of a drug addiction treatment center. That didn’t start for another ten or twelve years.
In 1994, the three-strikes law was enacted in California making the sentence for a third felony conviction 25 years to life. According to Mother Jones, one such offender was a homeless man who tried to take food from a church. Within a year or so, the three-strikes law was in 24 states.
These laws, and there are many more, are a large part of the reason one in ten Americans is now in prison.
How many of those people would be better off in a drug addiction treatment center? And if these are just the people who got caught, how many more people are out there who also need a drug addiction treatment center and are likely to wind up in prison instead?
Some prisoners are now being released early. Some are getting the rehab treatment they need. So things are changing. But if changes in drug laws can create this kind of effect, it’s clear that we need to spend a lot more money on drug addiction treatment centers if we want to spend less on prisons, the justice system and law enforcement.
Investing in high quality, successful drug addiction treatment centers could have a huge impact on our faltering economy. It would also reduce drug addiction and crime – and we spend billions on that in addition to the legal and prison system costs – and we’d save a lot of lives in the process instead of taking drug addicts and turning them into drug addicts who are also hardened criminals.
Can someone you know who’s taking drugs become a criminal? Absolutely. Get them into a drug addiction treatment center before that happens. They need drug rehab, not prison.