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My turn: Treatment vs. jail

Posted: April 14, 2011 - 11:03pm

 

Illicit drug use has been on the increase in Alaska over the past decade.

The prison system is saturated with drug offenders who later are released just to repeat their crimes. Unfortunately, there are few options for addicts in Alaska

The only Crystal Meth treatment facility in Anchorage has a waiting list for pregnant women, and currently is not accepting any other applications.

The state of Alaska spends excessive amounts of money incarcerating drug users, most of whom are repeat offenders. If more money is directed towards rehabilitation instead of incarceration, there will be a drop in drug related crimes, and a potential decrease in the congested prison system.

Treatment for addicts is cost-effective because it reduces costs related to drug use, health care, and crime, including incarceration costs. Adding an aftercare component to prison treatment programs reaps the greatest cost savings.

Although the initial funding outlay and logistical issues would be considerable, increasing access to different levels of treatment could provide substantial long-term economic and social benefits from reduced re-incarceration, easier transition to the community following release, and reduced drug abuse.

Not only does providing treatment to individuals involved in the criminal justice system decrease future drug use and criminal behavior while improving social functioning.

It also blends the functions of criminal justice supervision with drug abuse treatment and support to serve both public health and public safety concerns.

Left untreated, drug-abusing offenders can relapse to drug use and return to criminal behavior.

This jeopardizes public health and public safety, leads to re-arrest and re-incarceration, and further taxes an already over-burdened criminal justice system.

It is estimated that for every dollar spent on addiction treatment programs, there is a $4 to $7 reduction in the cost of drug-related crimes. With some outpatient programs, total savings can exceed costs by a ratio of 12:1.

With all the data and resources available to the federal and state prison systems it continues to ignore the fact that drug addiction is a disease.

Would a diabetic be imprisoned without medical treatment or an epileptic refused seizure medication? This could potentially cause more problems where taxpayers would end up paying the bill.

If treatment is available to addicts, regardless of their social or economic status it will provide substantial long-term economic and social benefits to them and the surrounding community.

Renee Bond is an Anchorage resident.

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