Preventing Substance Abusers From Entering Prison By Giselle Arenas

When President Nixon launched the War on Drugs, he set forward a campaign that would create the largest prison system in the world, a stigma upon drug addiction and treatment, and about $1 trillion wasted over 45 years. Today, 46.4% of federal inmates in America are currently incarcerated due to drug abuse offenses, with majority of the cases being non-violent. That’s almost half of all inmates on the federal level serving time due to drug charges. About 39 billion taxpayer dollars went into incarcerating these individuals this year, and funding will continue to build as the price of imprisoning one individual can range from 30,000-40,000 per year. The cost of incarcerating individuals is an ineffective approach to control drug abuse crimes. Since mass incarceration has not swayed that amount of drug abuse crimes, we should begin a campaign preventing substance abusers from entering the prison system.

The first step in counteracting this issue is reducing the stigma behind treatment. This can be done by understanding of the neurobiology of substance abuse addiction. The treatment of drug addiction is highly stigmatized as society continues to view addiction as the fault of the individual. Counteracting recent studies argue that addiction is a chronic brain disease, and “genetic factors are believed to contribute 40% to 60% of the vulnerability” (Chandler). With advances in modern medicine, addiction is now treated as a chronic illness like hypertension, asthma, and diabetes because there is extensive damage of the brain’s function (Aria and McLellan 1693). Drugs, such as opiates, work in a way that causes the brain to become dependent on it to function. Opiates bind to receptors and release a signal that causes a flood of dopamine (pleasure/reward hormone) within our systems. Repeated use of the drug causes the brain to associate drugs as a rewarding activity, and become dependent of drug use to release dopamine (Drugs and the Brain). These have shown disruptions to change an individual remarkably, and not by his/her choice but rather by the effect of substance abuse addiction. With more medical professionals treating addiction as a disease, treatment and addiction as a whole should begin to be accepted by society.

By applying the concept of addiction as a disease, we could then turn to alternative programs instead of incarceration. The state of Maryland has one of the highest rates of substance abuse, and to counteract the high cost of imprisonment, they created the Correctional Options Program (COP). COP involves treatment, vocational preparedness, employment aid, and education which reduces the yearly cost of a prisoner from $20,000 to $4,000 (McVay et al. 6). COP is estimated to reduce the state prisons by $12.8 million annually. (McVay et al. 13). Another example is Brooklyn’s DTAP (Drug Treatment Alternative Program) which showed that graduated participants were 67% less likely to be reincarcerated due to treatment and 92% of the participants were able to find employment after the completion of the program (McVay, Schiraldi, and Ziedenberg, 9). This program has shown to be cost effective and provides different areas of help and training to substance abusers. By using this type of alternative programs, substance abusing individuals would be able to re-enter society, and become a part of the working force.

Incarceration as the sole solution to substance abuse and substance abuse related crime has been widely ineffective. After decades of seeing the continued cycle of substance abusers in and out of prison, it’s time to change policies. Billions and billions of taxpayer dollars have been funding a failed a system when money could have been allocated toward programs in need. The first step to changing the flawed system is changing how society thinks. By understanding the science of addiction and spreading the information to the public, treatment could be significantly de-stigmatized by society, thus the principle of the concept could be applied to laws in changing how we deal with substance abusers. By preventing substance abusers from entering the prison system, we can save billions of taxpayer dollars and combat substance abuse.

Works Cited

Arria, Amelia M., and A. Thomas McLellan. “Evolution of Concept - But Not Action - in Addiction Treatment.” Substance use & misuse 47.0 (2012): 1041–1048. PMC. Print. 17 Mar. 2017.

Chandler, Redonna K., et al. “Treating Drug Abuse and Addiction in the Criminal Justice System: Improving Public Health and Safety.” JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association 301.2 (2009): 183–190. PMC. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.

"Federal Bureau of Prisons." BOP Statistics: Inmate Offenses. N.p., 10 Mar. 2017. Web. 17 Mar. 2017.

McVay, et al. Treatment vs Incarceration. Rep. N.p.: Justice Policy Institute, 2004. Print.

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