Non-Violent Drug Offenders
The police are regularly chasing non-violent drug offenders and arresting them for carrying small amounts of such drugs as methamphetamine, marijuana and others. The offenders are then carted off to jail where they languish until they are seen by the judge and sentenced to prison terms of varying lengths of time. As this happens the jail and prison system becomes over-crowded with prisoners who never committed a violent crime except for the self punishment they enacted upon themselves as a result of their terrible addiction. Attorney General Eric Holder recently said this about this population of addicts: "too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason" and at great public expense." Holder wants these non-violent drug abusers to be charged with less severe criminal offenses, have their prison times reduced and have them sentenced to rehab programs. In fact, President Obama's drug plan called for fewer arrests and more treatment.
The city of Sarasota, Florida, was experiencing the same type of problem most communities throughout the nation experience. The same people were repeatedly arrested for the same minor drug and alcohol offenses, costing the city and county too much money. Sarasota decided to try an experimental program whereby these offenders are taken into protective custody and sent to comprehensive rehab programs. The result has been is that the jail population is down and 50 to 60% of the jail this population remained sober after a year. This has resulted in enormous savings to the city and is being studied by other communities around the nation.
There is another factor that needs to be taken into consideration in reforming the jail system for minor and non-violent drug offenses. The fact is that most prisoners are under 18 years of age and two-thirds of these offenders are parents whose time in prison or jail takes them away from young kids. Many of these children end up in foster care because there is no supervision at home. This becomes damaging to the lives of families, incarcerated parents and children. There is no question that a better system needs to be put in place that focuses on treatment rather than punishment.
What are your opinions about this problem?
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD