Wednesday, July 06, 2005
Drugs, Prison and Neighborhood Decline
I've seen the cycle swirl again and again. It is sickening to watch.
A young man in Dallas, Texas, using drugs--in this part of town usually crack cocaine--is arrested for possession. No violence nor trafficking is involved during this first sequence. The court appoints an attorney and a plea is worked out that involves probation on the first offense and no prison time.
What the kid needs is treatment. Thanks to the fact that he is poor, what he gets is unemployment with the added challenge of finding a place to live.
Without treatment or a support group he falls behind on his probation fees and/or he is caught using again. Long story short, he ends up back in court. This time he faces prison time, usually in the range of 30 months or so depending on the amount of narcotics, if any, in his possession at the time of his arrest.
While in prison, he receives limited or no counseling services. Most productive opportunities come only at the end of his prison stay and aren't offered in enough concentration to do much good by the time he gets involved.
Once out of prison, he finds himself in an even deeper hole. Employment is now harder--actually, almost impossible to find. Housing presents a similar challenge.
What's a guy to do?
While I can think of several things he "ought" to do, the fact is he will likely try to do the right thing until it seems totally futile.
So, back he goes to the old corners of his life in the old neighborhood that got him started down this road in the first place.
The cycle repeats itself until he learns to sell dope, finds himself to be the father of a child or two or three, and decides that this is simply how his life is going to go.
He hardens. He resorts to violence. The journey turns bad, often tragic for him and everyone else.
The end result for his community is not pretty. Not only is he a crime statistic, he is no longer a potential leader or a positive force for change and renewal. The process appears to be a systematic "harvesting" of male leadership right under our noses in this community.
In Texas, as in far too many other states, drug use and addiction (even psychological as with crack) leads to prison, not treatment.
Prison doesn't work.
Prison is incredibly expensive.
But prison has become an industry with lobbying groups and power brokers to insure that it is fully funded going forward.
There has got to be a better, smarter, more humane way to address this unbelievable community problem.
And, of course, there is.
All across the nation states are waking up to the fact that sending non-violent drug users to prison is not only expensive, it is simply counter-productive.
As an example, for almost a decade now states like Arizona (not exactly Massachusetts from a social policy standpoint!) have decided to create court- mandated treatment programs to replace incarceration as the fundamental approach for dealing with these drug users.
The outcomes have been phenomenal. Recidivism has declined sharply. People leave the program to actually go to work on their way to assuming a positive role in their communities.
The last time I checked the stats for Arizona, the state was saving approximately $30,000 annually per inmate as compared to the cost of keeping a person locked up without treatment!
Recently, I read a report on a prison in Illinois that was converted entirely to a treatment center. Those involved received what they needed most--treatment rather than a criminal record.
It is way past time for this national movement of sanity, compassion and good sense to come to Texas, as well as to many other parts of the country.
Again, it seems to me that this involves important moral issues. People of faith should lead the way in seeing that this happens for the good of us all.