Benefits of Treatment vs. Criminalization

A black and white picture of a dimly lit jail cell from outside of the bars.

The social view of addiction has certainly been dramatically transformed over the past decade, and it really has been for the better. Today, in our public forums and legislation, the big topic of conversation has been whether we should approach addiction with the mindset of treatment or criminalization. Certain people have an outdated notion that criminalization will reduce the amount of drug abuse that exists in the United States. However, the effect that criminalization policies of the 80s and 90s had has done little to curb rising addiction rates. Here are several reasons why taking a path of treatment, instead, will be a far more profitable and humanistic route than criminalization…

Prisons have filled up, and have become an enormous expense

Our process of trying to criminalize drug use has been quite effective at only one thing, over the past few decades, and that is in filling up our prisons to the point that we incarcerate more people than any other country in the world, by quite a large amount. The sad truth is that most of these prisoners are in there for drug-related offenses, which are very rarely violent. This has created a large cost to taxpayers, and has done very little to curb growing drug abuse in America.

Criminalization tends to demonstrate racial bias

Overall, the criminalization of substance abuse over the past few decades has demonstrated a difference in how it affects young white people, as opposed to black or hispanic people. For example, a study conducted by the journal Sociology of Education recently showed that white students who get caught using an illicit substance are more likely to be put in treatment facilities, or have special educational tools utilized for them. On the other hand, a black student who is caught with the same illicit substance is more likely to be referred to law enforcement and booked into the criminal justice system, which can cause a cycle that perpetuates throughout that student’s life, as those who end up in jail early on in their life are far more likely to end up going back.

Addiction is a disease and mental condition

Health professionals have largely agreed that addiction is a mental disease, nowadays. This means that criminalization is essentially process of criminalizing a mental disease, which should absolutely be socially unacceptable. By failing to address this problem with treatment processes, we are preventing millions of people from getting the help that they need to deal with a mental condition that can be quite curable, if we put the time and effort into making it so.