Pubdate: Thu,  9 Jan 2003
Source: Traverse City Record-Eagle (MI)
Copyright: 2003 The Traverse City Record-Eagle
Author: Robert Sharpe,
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)


This letter is in response to the Jan. 4 editorial, "Grand Traverse County's
Drug Court is worth a try.'

The Grand Traverse County Drug Court is definitely a step in the right
direction, but an arrest should not be a necessary prerequisite for drug
treatment. 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 recreational drug users 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

Washington, DC 

Robert Sharpe is program officer at the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy
Foundation, Washington, DC.
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