Pubdate: Sun, 04 Nov 2001
Source: Standard-Examiner (UT)
Copyright: 2001 Ogden Publishing Corporation
Author: Robert Sharpe
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)


Ogden's drug court has undoubtedly saved lives. Unfortunately, an arrest is 
often a necessary prerequisite for potentially life-saving drug treatment. 
Policymakers are going to have to tone down their "tough on drugs" 
rhetoric. Would alcoholics seek treatment 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 cost-effective?

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 and values rather 
than reduce them. Most drug offenders are eventually released, with dismal 
job prospects due to criminal records. Turning non-violent drug offenders 
into hardened 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 two deadliest recreational drugs, yet government does not 
make it their business to actively destroy the lives of drinkers and 
smokers. It's time to declare peace in the failed drug war and begin 
treating all substance abuse, legal or otherwise, as the public health 
problem it is.

Robert Sharpe, Lindesmith Center, Drug Policy Foundation

Washington, D.C.
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