MS: There's of course much more to talk about, but we have to end things somewhere, right? One thing I'd caution people against is assuming that the automatic alternative to incarceration for people convicted of drug offenses should be drug treatment. First of all, most people arrested for drug offenses aren't dependent on drugs (most people who use drugs are not dependent on them); there are safe ways to use drugs and we have to challenge laws that stigmatize their use.
Secondly, for people who are dependent on drugs, it's been shown again and again that seeking treatment generally needs to be a voluntary thing -- you cannot force someone to recover. The best approach is harm reduction, and criminalization is really antithetical to reducing the harm that can come from misusing some drugs. Plus, some treatment sentences are remarkably similar to incarceration -- for example, when people are placed in locked-down treatment facilities where they don't have the option of leaving.
Lastly, simply changing the sentence from prison to treatment doesn't challenge the problem of criminalization itself; it doesn't challenge the idea that people should be arrested or policed. I would encourage folks to find out more about changing our framework for understanding drugs and drug use. For example, check out the work of Dr. Carl Hart, a courageous neuroscientist who is bringing new understandings of drug use to the forefront.
JB: You raise so many interesting points, Maya. I look forward to continuing this discussion at a later date. Thanks so much for talking with me again.
My prior interview with Maya:
Maya Schenwar: "Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better" 1.25.2015