Texans favor rehab over prison for non-violent drug crime offenders

The nation’s war on drugs is increasingly being viewed as a failure since no progress has been made in containing America’s drug addiction problem.

The war on drugs, initiated when Richard Nixon was President, has seemingly made little headway in the fight against the nation's drug addiction problem. Sending people to prison for possession of drugs has long been part of the strategy for discouraging drug use. Unfortunately, as observed by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, the threat of incarceration after being convicted on drug charges has had little effect on either reducing drug use or in promoting the rehabilitation of people addicted to drugs. Worse, holding someone in prison with no specific plans for continued treatment and rehabilitation upon their release is an expensive and ineffective way to deal with the cycle of dependency.

An article published in The Economist observes that America now has the world's largest prison population. China, which has more than four times as many people, is a distant second. Unfortunately, prisons are expensive to build and to maintain.

The Wall Street Journal recently noted that many state governments are facing the fiscal nightmare of spending more money in order to build more prisons to house more inmates. Prisons are the second-fastest growing item in state budgets-second only to Medicaid. The majority of inmates in state prisons are there after being convicted on drug charges rather than violent crimes. To avoid fiscal calamity, some states have begun implementing meaningful reforms such as expanding drug courts, ordering mandatory treatment programs and increasing funding for drug and mental health treatment.

According to the Daily Beast, Texas has led "a surprisingly progressive overhaul of its incarceration system." In Texas, significant moneys have been funneled to special drug courts, rehabilitation treatments and probation. Using money to treat and rehabilitate people addicted to drugs has saved billions of dollars, which would have gone into the construction of new prisons. Indeed, Texas has shut down three prisons. In addition, Texas has saved money - the cost of locking someone up in a maximum security prison is $50 a day as opposed to the cost of monitoring probation which comes to about $3.63 per day. On top of monetary savings, the crime rate in Texas has dropped significantly.

Changing attitudes

The Texas Public Policy Foundation has published an article on its website noting that the majority of Texans now prefer treatment over prison sentences for non-violent drug crime offenders. Indeed, 79 percent of Texans polled favored mandatory probation for first-time non-trafficking drug offenses. The Houston Chronicle reported that Texans are becoming more aware of the fact that people addicted to drugs need to have a chance for redemption by being rehabilitated rather than incarcerated.

Nathan Jones, an expert on drug issues at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, was quoted by the Chronicle as saying that, where medically oriented treatment programs are an alternative, locking people up for simple drug possession is "ridiculous." Jones opined that there are social costs to locking up drug possessors since someone convicted of a felony can have difficulty finding a good job to support his or her family.

Seeking legal help

Although attitudes are changing with regard to the war on drugs, being charged with a drug crime remains a serious matter. If you are charged with a drug crime, you should contact a Texas attorney with experience at handling drug crime cases.

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