According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, it costs a national average of over $20,000 per year to incarcerate a criminal offender. With about 150,000 inmates currently incarcerated on drug possession charges, the United States is spending nearly $3,000,000 each year to imprison these people. Further, research has indicated that every dollar invested in addiction treatment programs yields a return of between four and seven dollars in reduced drug-related crime, criminal justice costs, and theft. With such impressive savings at stake, more courts are looking at drug treatment versus imprisonment when sentencing drug offenders. Experienced criminal law attorneys can describe the treatment options available to drug offenders in their states and push for those options instead of imprisonment.
More and More States Encourage or Require Sentencing to Treatment Centers
Some states have implemented legislation that encourages or even mandates this new approach to sentencing drug offenders. The sentencing programs in these states recognize that in some cases, the best solution for drug problems is not increased incarceration but rather increased treatment. California’s law, for instance, requires judges to offer nonviolent drug offenders probation with substance abuse treatment in lieu of incarceration for their first two offenses. The court can choose from a variety of state-licensed treatment programs. The offender’s sentence may also include community service, literacy training, family counseling, and vocational training.
While most states have some kind of law that provides treatment options to drug offenders, California was only the second state to pass a comprehensive program by voter referendum. Arizona was the first in 1996 with its Drug Medicalization, Prevention and Control Act. Arizona’s Supreme Court has found that 75% of the participants in its program remained drug free in the first year, saving the state $2,500,000. Based on these positive results, other states are also working on treatment options for nonviolent offenders. New York’s chief judge ordered the state’s courts to start phasing in a program that would offer nearly all substance-abusing criminals treatment instead of jail time, for example, and North Carolina and Oregon have also passed laws regarding drug court or conditional probation for certain drug offenders. Washington state, too, has provided for sentencing alternatives in drug cases.
These states have demonstrated that by providing treatment to non-violent drug offenders that would otherwise be incarcerated, society benefits in many ways. Millions of tax dollars can be saved by providing treatment, and treatment programs also incorporate vocational and life skill training, thus enabling the drug user to become a productive part of society once again.
Current drug policy places an increasing burden on an already overburdened and over-crowded prison system by incarcerating non-violent drug offenders in spaces that could be better used to house violent criminals. The public stands to benefit from the financial and societal savings that result from treatment versus imprisonment for certain drug offenders, and the offenders themselves benefit from the training and rehabilitation afforded them in treatment centers. If you or someone you know has been charged with a drug-related crime and you have questions about the options that may be available, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney now.