Ninety percent of drug arrests in the state of Texas are for possession, not for more serious felony offenses like sale of distribution. And this, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition says, bolsters their argument that the state needs to continue to invest in treatment programs rather than sinking money into prisons that do nothing but exacerbate drug problems.
The Coalition published a report last week that says the state could save millions while increasing public safety if they would keep their focus on treatment rather than prison.
“You cannot cure addiction by locking it up,” said Ana Yanez Correa, the executive director. “It doesn’t cure it; it makes it worse.”
Beginning in 2007, Texas lawmakers have spent more on treatment, shifting the focus away from incarceration. But, with budget shortfalls in 2011, they were forced to dial back the expensive treatment programs, once again feeding the incarceration rate. While the prison population had fallen enough to close a prison in 2011 (the first ever for the state), it’s back on track to fill state prisons and jails again by 2014.
Everyday taxpayers are footing the bill on nearly 15,000 inmates incarcerated on possession charges. This, in 2011, meant $725,000 each day.
While treatment programs may cost more, on the front end, they are saving measures more on the back end.
Right now, there simply aren’t enough resources for addicts. In 2009, the waitlist for treatment in the state was some 14,000 names long. And waiting isn’t always conducive to addiction recovery. Instead, while an admitted addict waits for a slot to open, he is more likely to commit more crimes.
Not only does treatment stop someone from committing further crimes right away, the effects are far more lasting than those of incarceration. Someone who is able to go through drug treatment is far less likely to reoffend than someone who is simply locked up for a traditional sentence.
One lawmaker has issued a bill that would allow low-level offenders to go on probation with intensive drug treatment. If successful, they could apply for the dismissal of their charges. That lawmaker, Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) says the measure could save the state $138 million annually.
Diversion, deferred prosecution, drug courts: they all work to help someone who has a drug problem. Prison doesn’t.