It’s no secret that addiction leads down a dark path for most people, going so far as to land some in prison. Another hot-button topic that has made headlines in the past few years is prison overcrowding. There’s a very obvious link between the two. The US federal prisons are overcrowded to a dangerous degree. To put it in perspective, current figures point to as many as 1 out of every 100 Americans is currently behind bars. Of those, 50% are there for drug-related offenses.
The struggle with addiction is real. It’s for that reason that it’s become vital to understand the system. There’s a lot at stake. Addicts hoping to overcome addiction have many hurdles to cross. Getting excellent treatment at a reputable center is the best option. But what are the ways to get the care that will equip a person to handle their recovery? Is prison time ever a silver lining?
Who Is Dealing with Drug Abuse?
Those numbers show that the US is in the middle of a hairy prison and drug situation. Further, drug statistics demonstrate the the war on drugs is a failing effort. The opioid epidemic is ruining or outright claiming countless lives. In 2015, two million people suffered from prescription opioid use disorder. In that same year, there were 30,000 drug overdose deaths.
Those might seem like incredibly high numbers. In reality, it’s only one facet of what the nation faces in terms of addiction. In the past year, 20 million Americans struggled with substance use disorder.That’s nearly 10% of the population at large.
Authorities who swear by the war on drugs do so under the belief that incarceration is the answer. A strict drug policy can put a stop to the harmful effects drugs have on society. But the fact of the matter is, only a tiny fraction of those who need help, get it. Last year, only 2% of addicts got specialized care.
The reality is that those with drug addiction are greatly underserved. Drug addiction costs dearly for society as a whole. It isn’t confined to just those who are in the thick of it. Factoring in what it’s like for the prison population results in a more alarming set of circumstances.
What Are the Addiction Statistics for Prison?
A lockdown and controlled environment might seem ideal for an addict. After all, they can’t leave at will. There should be no access to drugs. There’s medical attention if anyone runs into trouble. It sounds like just the place to kick the habit. Still, an estimated 80% of inmates are addicted to substances like heroin and alcohol.
If that statistic seems hazy, here’s a clearer one from The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). A reported 60% of inmates display signs of clinical addiction. That’s a huge chunk of the inmate population showing measurable symptoms. What are those classic symptoms?
Not being able to go without the drug for long periods of time.
Building a tolerance for the drug.
Exhibiting risky behavior and harmful habits that the person didn’t show before.
Inability to stop taking the drug.
Experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
The Realities of Grappling Addiction in Prison
If anything, the numbers give away the complicated nature of drug addiction within jails and prisons. It’s true that most addicts won’t be able to help themselves until something drastic happens. That nothing will stop addiction in its tracks until they hit rock bottom. Prison or jail time certainly fit the bill for “rock bottom.” For some, this also means an interruption in their drug supply.
Being locked up with so many other fellow abusers takes its toll. The truth is that most federal and state prisons aren’t properly equipped. Sobriety is about a lot more than restricting access to addictive substances. It is a lifelong effort that requires both stability and a support system.
Landing in jail may very well be a turning point in someone’s addiction. For those who’ve never had issues with the law, it’s a wake-up call. The shock can jumpstart and fuel the road to sobriety. But the prison setting is still very limited. Jailhouses are often short on staff and underfunded. Recovery calls for expert care by seasoned professionals.
Specialized care is a necessity. Studies have shown this beyond a shadow of a doubt. Going through detox under medical supervision gives a person a better shot at recovery.
So, What’s the Answer to Tackle Drug Addiction?
The war on drugs dates back to the early 1970s. The intent was simple: to stop illegal trade. Going after manufacturers is only one of the approaches. Another is creating harsh consequences for anyone who use drugs. The drug user might be a hardened criminal or just a minor offender.
The government has poured limitless resources into the war on drugs. The link between the war on drugs and prison overcrowding is undeniable. Jail time can be effective and does have its benefits. But a look at other alternatives is also necessary.
A prison sentence is more than the short-term effects of being locked up. It’s carrying a prison record for the rest of someone’s life. This can get in the way of jobs, career advancement, and someone’s livelihood. If the intent is to rehabilitate someone, there needs to be a balance.
Decriminalization and drug legalization are growing trends. Those take care of drug offenders who aren’t addicts. Civil commitment is also an alternative to prison for those with addiction. Commitment addresses the health and recovery aspects in ways that prison falls short.
What Does Decriminalization of Drugs Mean?
Decriminalization is a middle-ground in drug policy. It isn’t about overturning drug prohibition. Supporters of this approach want a better system. One of the proposed terms is replacing prison time with fines. Lesser penalties serve as punishment all the same. The difference is the shift in focus. It allows the war on drugs to target manufacturers and illegal production.
Meanwhile, there is less severity involved for minor drug offenses and recreational drug use. Some argue that this is a more reasonable model when compared to existing laws.
Several politicians pardoned or commuted prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. While in office, Obama commuted a thousand prison sentences for minor drug offenders. This move, while controversial, also did a lot of good.
More recently, the governor of Maryland proposed legislation to follow suit. The initiative outlined in both of these politician’s examples is inspiring. It could just be a solution for the drawn-out war on drugs.
How Is Decriminalization Different to Legalization?
Supporters of drug legalization champion the idea of responsible drug use. There was a time when the government didn’t place so many regulations on drugs. Some argue that this frenzy to control drug use got out of hand. The support behind legalization isn’t a push to end government oversight. Not by a long shot. Alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine are legal and regulated. Those who are for drug legalization believe in expanding the list of permitted substances.
Recent changes in marijuana legislation are the go-to example of legalization. Cannabis is still a Schedule I drug in the US. However, many states have permitted licensed dispensaries to sell the product legally. Some restrict use to legitimate and prescribed medical conditions. Others allow for recreational use.
Ten years ago, marijuana use could and did land thousands in prison. Nowadays, news of record sales and increased tax revenues collected make headlines. In 2016, Colorado alone generated a whopping one billion dollars in taxes from legal marijuana. And so, support for legalization is on the rise.
Civil Commitment: An Alternative to Prison for Addiction
Civil commitment is a type of detention intended to prevent further damage. It’s entirely separate from the criminal justice system. A total of 37 states contain provisions for committing someone for drug addiction. Instead of going to prison, the person with an addiction is committed to a treatment facility. There, they receive the care and attention to aid them in their recovery.
The steps for being committed are simple. It starts with someone filing a complaint in civil court. It can’t be the addict who initiates the proceedings. Someone else, either a family member or third party, has to take the lead. The judge then listens to evidence and testimony before ruling. The decision is based on whether the drug user poses a threat to themselves or others.
Committing someone isn’t always done against that person’s will. In Massachusetts, a lot of people with substance use disorder are taking an initiative. Working side-by-side with a family member or friend, they seek commitment freely. The reason behind that is to find a substitute for rehab.
Civil commitment was designed as an emergency measure. That’s a far cry from the voluntary rehab placement some are using it for. They’re doing it in search for sobriety, however. Public rehab spots are hard to come by. Cost and lack of insurance coverage rule out private facilities for many.
In light of those circumstances, civil commitment becomes an attractive option.
Civil Commitment Isn’t Perfect
When going through detox, you need all the resources you can get. It’s a stressful experience on the body. Access to medication, counseling, and support is key to a successful recovery. Some people luck out and land in a fantastic treatment center.
But not all state facilities are created equal. The articles about Massachusetts report many would-be patients requesting placement in specific programs. Because the judge’s ruling is final, they want assurances that they’re going to a quality institution. If not, it defeats the purpose of their voluntary surrender to civil commitment.
There’s no getting around it. Professional attention from a seasoned staff that’s tailored to your needs is important.
Substance Abuse Affects Everyone
It’s not only addicts and their loved ones who suffer due to substance use disorder. The economic burden of drug and alcohol addiction is north of $400 billion per year. So few get the treatment they need. It’s not hard to understand why many resort to desperate measures to rehabilitate themselves.
The system doesn’t always work. Prison can and does help turn the lives of those with addiction around. It can also be a recipe for disaster. There are other paths worth looking into. There’s a long road ahead. In the fight to end addiction, society needs every tool available.