Drug addiction and jail always seem to find a place in one sentence. But is jail the right place for drug addicts? Can we continue to push the problem away in the absence of proper drug addiction treatment? Let’s take a look.
Drug addicts commit crimes. There is no argument over that fact. Whether the crimes are committed to support a drug habit or the addict loses all rational judgment upon his actions (to the point of having no control over what he consumes)—the point of the matter is that they do commit crimes; mostly theft from the very people who care the most about them most. So, punishing a criminal for committing a crime is not necessarily a bad thing. But is it the right thing to do to bring an end to the root cause of the crime?
Many family members believe that leaving their loved ones in jail is better than leaving them on the streets, reasoning that jail provides a safe place where they are being fed and have a chance to stop taking the drugs; the family also gets a break from dealing with the issue. These are all valid feelings, but again— does it bring an end to the root cause of the crimes? And now we add a twist to the matter: Is being behind bars stopping drug addicts from accessing their favorite substances?
Let’s look at a popular case. Hollywood actor Michael Douglas’ son Cameron was in prison for five years for possession and distribution of heroin. When it was discovered that he possessed heroin and Suboxone (a therapeutic alternative to street drugs while in prison), he received an additional four and a half years of prison time, the longest in history. Clearly a drug addict, is Cameron’s sentence just, or too abrasive?
Drug addicts do not get better because they are behind bars. Point-blank. Drugs addicts learn new ways to commit crimes, make alliances with real criminals, and become a burden to society, both while in prison and after they leave. Very few inmates will find recovery behind bars. It is a tough place to live, and survival is paramount. The need for treatment is not addressed in our system of incarceration, so the underlying issues of addiction are not discussed or treated. This leaves us running in a vicious circle. The vicious cycle goes as follows: the addict commits the crime because of drugs abuse or “having it,” they then go to jail, learn new tricks; finally, they are released or do their time, commit more crimes to feed their unattended drug needs, and go back to jail or die.
Unless we begin treatment of addiction in our prisons, we will never stop the problem. The crimes must have consequences, but that should not stop the obligation to treat a sick person once in jail. Addiction is a disease, and treatment has shown to be successful. Perhaps an alternative facility for addicts will lessen the problem. But one thing is definite; teaching them to be better criminals is not the answer.