The White House has finally realized that incarceration is not the way to solve the “drug problem” in the US.
At a press conference held at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, on Wednesday, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, laid out his goals for the year, and announced a major shift in drug control policies for the federal government. This shift would take the focus from “law enforcement to addiction treatment.” The Baltimore Sun reports that the White House Drug Czar praised the success of “increasingly popular drug courts, which emphasize treatment and rehabilitation over prison time.” He said, “We’ve relied far too long on the criminal justice system.”
A new policy proposal released by the White House lays out the direction the Obama administration plans to take the “war on drugs”:
While law enforcement will always play a vital role in protecting our communities from drug-related crime and violence, we simply cannot incarcerate our way out of the drug problem. Put simply, an enforcement-centric “war on drugs” approach to drug policy is counterproductive, inefficient, and costly.
Emphasizing prevention over incarceration. Preventing drug use before it begins— particularly among young people— is the most cost-effective way to reduce drug use and its consequences.
Our plan calls for substantial reforms to the Nation’s criminal justice system to lower incarceration rates and reduce recidivism while protecting public safety: Reforms like the expansion of specialized courts that divert non-violent drug offenders into treatment instead of prison. Reforms like smart diversion programs that identify first time offenders who have a substance use disorder and provide community health services instead of a jail cell or arrest record. Reforms like reentry programs, which help guide former offenders back into society, support their recovery from addiction, and help them avoid a return to the criminal justice system.
The report also points out that under the “Affordable Care Act,” insurance companies are now “required to cover treatment for substance use disorders just as they would for any other chronic disease.”
Another aspect of the new policy focuses on those who are in recovery already, or those who have successfully completed treatment. As the research shows, many times, recovered addicts face very real barriers to “maintaining their sobriety.” Some of these include a “lack of access to housing, employment, or even getting a drivers license.” The report states:
In support of the roughly 23 million Americans in recovery today, the President’s plan seeks to eliminate legislative and regulatory barriers facing Americans who have made the successful journey from addiction to sobriety. As part of this effort, the Obama Administration has, for the first time, established a Recovery Branch at the Office of National Drug Control Policy to support Americans in recovery and help lift the stigma associated with addiction.
The new policy, however, does stop short of endorsing legalization. Kerlikowske told The Root:
We know that from a public health approach, legalizing drugs, thereby making them much more easily and widely available, would not be a very wise policy. But we also don’t think that people — particularly those that are possessing small amounts of marijuana — that having an arrest record, that being put into the system, is particularly helpful either.
So while this new policy shift is not a complete about-face, it does aim to tackle the problems of addiction at the root, instead of just simply punishing the behavior and expecting change on the part of the addict.
Photo: Ben Fredericson (xjrlokix)/Flickr