Letter to the Editor

Coerced treatment can backfire

To the editor:

The 32nd Judicial Circuit's drug court is definitely a step in the right direction, but an arrest should not be a necessary prerequisite for drug treatment. Would alcoholics seek help for their illness if doing so were tantamount to confessing to criminal activity? Likewise, would putting every incorrigible alcoholic behind bars and saddling them with criminal records prove cost-effective?

The United States recently earned the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world, with drug offenses accounting for the majority of federal incarcerations. This is big government at its worst. At an average cost of $26,134 per inmate annually, maintaining the world's largest prison system can hardly be considered fiscally conservative.

The threat of prison that coerced treatment relies upon can backfire when it's actually put to use. Prisons transmit violent habits rather than reduce them. Imagine if every alcoholic were thrown in jail and given a permanent criminal record. How many lives would be destroyed? How many families torn apart? How many tax dollars would be wasted turning potentially productive members of society into hardened criminals?

ROBERT SHARPE, Policy Analyst, Common Sense for Drug Policy, Washington, D.C.