Pubdate: Thu, 21 Mar 2002
Source: Hattiesburg American (MS)
Copyright: 2002 Hattiesburg American
Author: Robert Sharpe
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)


Drug Courts ("Our Views: Why is state slow to start drug courts?" March 
17), are definitely a step in the right direction, but an arrest should not 
be a necessary prerequisite for cost-effective drug treatment. Fear of 
criminal sanctions compels many 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 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 nonviolent 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.

At present, there is a glaring double standard in place. 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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