One thing I’ve learned through stories from addicts in the Bronx is just how deeply drugs infiltrate the prison system. Brought in through family members or by correctional officers themselves, addicts routinely tell me the same story: obtaining drugs and maintaining an addiction in prison is simple. As Jhonas notes, “You can get anything in jail. Everything has a price.”
We punish drug users and criminals alike, tossing them in prison with only cursory and behaviorally-earned addiction treatment if any. Most attempts at ‘help’ lie in cold turkey cut-off approaches.
I posed a question in a sex addiction post last year:
Where do we as a society stand? Do we sympathize with addicts and want them to get specialized, tailored psychological help for the problem, avoiding lengthy prison time, or do we treat them as criminals who have made, perhaps, brutal, corrupt decisions? Here, I’m reminded of those with schizophrenia and mental disorders. Mainly, do we jail and judge people for violent or horrifying actions of bad brain chemistry? So far, the answer seems to be ‘yes.’
Of course, serious matters of lawbreaking need to be handled accordingly — but we should look for the potential causality, and at the least, a correlation among those criminally incarcerated.
The Daily Beast says it well:
Of the 2.3 million inmates in the U.S., more than half have a history of substance abuse and addiction. Not all those inmates are imprisoned on drug-related charges (although drug arrests have been rising steadily since the early 1990s; there were 195,700 arrests in 2007). But in many cases, their crimes, such as burglary, have been committed in the service of feeding their addictions. Rich, a professor of medicine and community health at Brown University, is worried that, by refusing or neglecting to provide treatment to these addicts, many U.S. prisons are missing the best chance to cure them—and in the process to cut down on future crime. Treatment can reduce recidivism rates from 50 percent to something more like 20 percent, according to the DEA. Yet it is not widely provided. “Our system has taken the highest-risk and most ill people and put them in a place where they have constitutionally mandated health care,“ Rich says. “What a great opportunity to make a difference. Are we just trying to punish people? Or are we trying to rehabilitate people? What do we want out of this?”
Which brings me to actor and comedian Russell Brand– Brand, a reformed heroin user himself, advocates treating addiction as a health issue and said as much to members of British Parliament. I agree. The needs of addiction coalesce into criminal acts. If we aim to find a solution to many types of street crime, we must think beyond the retributive to treat a source problem of lawbreaking: addiction.