The New York Times recently profiled an approach of one trial judge that is slowly being adopted by more and more members of the bench. This particular judge was frustrated that those appearing before him with convictions for drug crimes tended to end up right back in his courtroom after a period of time. Rather than teaching them a lesson, incarceration only seemed to temporarily dry out the offenders until they could again gain access to the subject of their addictions.
He began to recognize that the drug crime offenders were in far greater need of treatment then they were of incarceration and began sentencing offenders accordingly. Certainly, incarceration plays a necessary role in the criminal justice system when violent offenders need to be kept away from the population for a time, but research confirms time and again that incarceration tends to do more harm to offenders than good when the crimes in question are either non-violent or related to drug and alcohol abuse.
Another interesting research conclusion is that swiftness of consequence is imperative to influencing an offender’s future behavior. If drug and alcohol abusers are given swift consequence in the form of arrest combined with swift consequence of treatment, the benefits to both the offender and society as a whole can be quite dramatic. If given access to swift and adequate treatment, drug and alcohol abusers are far less likely to reoffend, which benefits everyone.
As prisons and jails continue to overflow and the crime rate continues to frustrate all Americans, legislators and judges need to rethink their approach to drug and alcohol crimes in particular. Locking offenders up is less effective than proper treatment. This fact should be the driving force behind criminal justice reform related to these kinds of offenses.
Source: New York Times, “For Drug Users, a Swift Response Is the Best Medicine,” David Bornstein, Jan. 8, 2012