The pendulum is finally swinging from the shrill cries of more prisons and punishment to addiction treatment and decreased incarceration. The United States has 25% of the world’s inmates and only 5% of the world’s population. A major cause of our incarceration crisis lies in our approach to addicted Americans. One of the sane voices is Steven W. Tompkins, Sheriff of Suffolk County, Massachusetts.
Sheriff Tompkins stated on August 9th in the Boston Globe, “approximately 70 percent of the current inmate population in Suffolk County have used and abused drugs and alcohol. Regrettably, many of them are likely to reengage in drug use and eventual criminal activity soon after release, unless we can successfully address their addictions.”
If you think that Suffolk County and Sheriff Tompkin’s experience is unique, then you are wrong. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University reported in 2010 that “of the 2.3 million inmates crowding our nations prisons and jails, 1.5 million meet the DSM-IV medical criteria for substance abuse or addiction, and another 458,000, while not meeting the strict DSM-IV criteria, had histories of substance abuse; were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of their crime; committed their offense to get money to buy drugs; were incarcerated for an alcohol or drug law violation; or shared some combination of these characteristics.”
In other words, 85% of of the United States prison population are full blown addicts or suffer from some sort of addiction. More importantly, drug and alcohol addictions were major factors contributing to the inmate’s crimes. The 2010 Columbia report revealed that drugs and alcohol in 2006 contributed to the following offenses:
- 78% of violent crimes
- 83% of property crimes
- 77% of public order, immigration or weapon offenses; and probation/parole violations
Sheriff Tompkins has devoted extensive resources in his jail to treat inmates for their addictions, but many upon release succumb to their demons and slide back into a life of crime to support their addictions. We need to have effective drug and alcohol treatment programs through out our local communities to treat addicted individuals before they have committed crimes and have become part of our shameful statistics.
By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com