THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES
Saturday, October 16, 2010
PRISON DRUG TREATMENT WOULD REVERSE OVERCROWDING AND REDUCE CRIME, RECIDIVISM, BUDGETS
Deficit Commission Recommendations
Should Heed Savings by Treatment and Conyers' Focus
By Robert Weiner and Daphne Baille
2.3 million Americans are in prison today--number one in the world. That's up from 500,000 in 1980 or 4 times more. Seven million Americans are now in the criminal justice system--incarcerated, on probation or on parole--also the most in the world. Imprisonment is one of the most expensive items of state and local budgets. The cost of incarceration in the U.S. is estimated at over $60 billion dollars a year.
Most of the increases are due to the prosecution of drug abusers starting in the 80s. Drugs were rampant during that time period; in 1980, 14% of Americans abused illegal drugs monthly. That number is now down to 8%, but a whopping 68% of arrestees test positive for illegal drugs, according to Justice Department surveys of 30 cities. The nexus of drugs and crime is undeniable.
There is a solution other than putting drug abusers behind bars--drug treatment. Despite the fact that 68% of arrestees test positive for drugs, only 14% of prisoners receive treatment.
Birmingham, Alabama was able to stop building a new prison when they instituted an arrestees' drug treatment program 15 years ago.