By Indri Schaelicke | United States
The United States currently has 5% of the world’s population, yet has over 25% of all incarcerated individuals. These numbers are shocking: how can a country that claims the be the bastion of freedom imprison so many of its own citizens? The answer is that the United States currently punishes people for their addictions. In 2016 alone, police arrested 1,249,025 people for drug possession.
Imprisonment does not address the root cause of the addiction, nor remedy the addiction itself. Rather, it exposes people who committed non-violent, victimless crimes to dangerous prisoners guilty of far worse. This immersion into the world of crime and hatred can actually lead non-violent offenders to commit acts of violence when they leave prison. Statistics show that 76.9% of drug offenders are rearrested for a new crime soon after their release.
Public vs Private Action
Rather than imprisoning drug offenders, the state should repeal all drug laws. Private and voluntary rehabilitation, rather than public punishment, should take the stage. Many drug users have a severe addiction problem. Simply put, a jail sentence will not address that issue, as prisons are full of drugs. Private rehab, on the other hand, allows individuals to take advantage of the many tools available. Rather than spiraling in a prison cell, the addict may begin life anew.
Already, dozens of charities provide free resources to those battling addiction. Among these are the Amy Winehouse Foundation, The Herren Project, and the Phoenix House. But by very sharp contrast, the government offers little aid to those trying to recover from addictions. Their standard course of action is imprisonment. Much like the drugs themselves, prison ruins the family structure and decimates futures.
Even the most honest and repentant people who come out of jail have a difficult time finding work because most employers refuse to hire ex-convicts. Kids can end up in the foster care system, depriving them of a true, loving parental figure for years. By contrast, addiction rehab programs can last as few as 30 days and extend up to a year or more. So, recovery goes much quicker. Also, the addict will not forcibly lose status as an active worker or parent.
John Legend and Free America
Thankfully, the movement to end the mass incarceration machine has a great ally in John Legend and his Free America project. His movement “exists to amplify the voices of individuals impacted by the criminal justice system and those who are working to change it.” Anyone seeking to reform the justice system should support organizations such as these. John Legend’s Free America project is doing more to help those with drug charges than the government itself.
A more compassionate approach to justice must occur. This, without a doubt, begins with reforming how our society treats drug addicts.
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