Prison or Treatment for Addiction: What is More Effective in Increasing Public Safety?
Date:  05-28-2013

One Michigan County believes locking up addicts is the best way to increase public safety
High recidivism rates, particularly in one county, was the subject of a recent article in Michigan’s Daily News. Interviewed by the Daily News, a Dickinson County prosecutor and a sheriff seemed to promote the now-discredited belief that public safety is increased when those suffering from drug addiction are sent back to prison, instead of being offered drug treatment.

The prosecutor and sheriff who spoke to Daily News reporter Lisa M. Reed often work in tandem with parole and probation officers using “aggressive” law enforcement practices to put drug addicts back behind bars.

The cost of incarceration is far more expensive than treatment, a fact that Dickinson County law enforcement officials admit. Most addicts are arrested on charges of drug possession or property crimes. Jails and prisons across the country are filled with non-violent drug offenders, who would do better with aggressive treatment for their addictions, rather than aggressive arrest and conviction tactics. Taxpayers would also benefit because treatment programs are less costly than prison.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Dickinson County’s strategy of re-arresting addicts and sending them back to prison, only to have them get out, use drugs, get arrested and be re-incarcerated over and over again ad nauseam, if not an insane policy, is certainly an ineffective one. Addiction is a disease, not a “chosen lifestyle.” Experts from some of America’s most respected organizations that promote public safety, including the Council of State Governments, the Urban Institute, the Osborne Foundation, the Fortune Society and the Vera Institute, all advocate for treatment over incarceration for addicts. Perhaps Dickinson County law enforcement agencies will scrutinize the recidivism statistics in their area and realize offering treatment for addiction is a more effective way to reduce criminal behavior.

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