Government reports indicate that sixty percent of arrested men in the U.S. are abusing some drug or have some substance in their bodies at the time of their arrest. The report indicates that this is not just an inner-city problem. In fact, the reports indicate that across the entire nation the majority of men who are arrested test positive for drugs and/or alcohol in their bodies at the time of their arrest.
When the majority of men who are arrested are arrested for something having to do with drugs and alcohol, we know that a problem is at hand. We know that if we could only reduce the amount of drugs used, we could potentially completely change the face of crime in the U.S.
Here is the disparity. Even though more than sixty percent of men arrested across U.S. cities used at least one illegal drug, only about fifteen percent of them received legitimate drug treatment. This government research program analyzed arrests in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, New York, and Sacramento. The study examined drug analysis test results for each arrestee. Sixty percent of those tested did test positive for drug use within forty-eight hours of their arrest.
According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the report confirms the very urgent need to create both prevention and treatment to break the cycle of drug use and resulting crime. This is a revolving door problem, because most men involved in drug use will commit a crime, will be arrested for that crime, will do prison time, will get out of prison, and will go right back to drug use again. Unfortunately, this starts the vicious cycle all over again. The system is flawed.
Men do not get real help for their addictions while in jail. From a psychological perspective, they are just as likely to engage in drug use after incarceration as they were before. While they might go through a cold turkey detox while sitting in a jail cell, they will not receive the valuable behavioral rehabilitation that they need to confront, address, and remove their addictions from their lives. The statistics alone show the lack of efficacy in prisons for “curing addiction.” In Chicago, for example, eighty-six percent of arrested men test positive for drugs. Many of them are repeat offenders.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics have published similar results as the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, sixty-eight percent of jail inmates are addicted to drugs and alcohol and are in jail for a substance-related offense. For the federal prisons, forty-six percent of inmates are addicted to drugs and alcohol. For state prison, fifty-three percent of inmates are addicted to drugs and alcohol.
While marijuana is the most common drug that is present in an arrestee, other drugs are also becoming a lot more relevant in certain areas too. For example, more than forty percent of men arrested in Sacramento, California test positive for methamphetamine at the time of their arrest. In Denver, Colorado, three percent of men arrested in 2011 tested positive for meth. In 2012, that percentage jumped to thirteen percent testing positive for the drug. Positive test results for opiates like heroin and prescription painkillers are also common and growing in most states.
The United States incarcerates seven-hundred and sixteen people for every one-hundred-thousand residents. This rate is higher than in any other nation. The U.S. quite literally has the highest incarceration rate in the entire world. The drug problem is a big contributor to that.
The Surgeon General, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even the White House at this point has admitted that drug and alcohol addiction is a public health problem, not a criminal problem. In approaching criminal justice reform, we have to keep this in mind.
We need to engage more prevention in the form of law enforcement, education, grassroots movements, border patrol, community action, legislative action, increased prescription drug regulations, and other strategies to prevent Americans from becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol in the first place. When people become addicted, they will commit crimes to support their habit. This is why we need to remember that prevention has to be the priority because it is far easier to prevent someone from becoming an addict than it is to rehabilitate someone who is already addicted.
We also need to treat and help those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Several bills have gone before state congress in California, New York, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, and several other states to propose rehabilitating drug users who have committed non-violent crimes instead of incarcerating them. This is the right approach. Drug abuse is no excuse to commit a crime, but prison and jail time do not need to be the ultimate destination for every arrestee.
We have the tools to help addicts. We have the tools to prevent people from becoming addicted. We need to apply these tools if we are going to reduce drug abuse and crime.