For many of us, drug and alcohol addiction are paired with an arrest record. As we continue to be jailed for crimes associated with our substance abuse, we end up stuck in a miserable trap of getting high, getting arrested, spending time in jail or prison, being released, then getting high and starting the cycle all over again. As we discover more and more about the disease of addiction, there has been more conversation about the comparative effectiveness of treatment versus incarceration. No argument is needed, we have seen the results of mass incarceration – imprisoning those of us suffering from addiction doesn’t solve the problem and weighs heavy on our society.
The Uniform Crime Report for 2016 showed that 40% of all adult arrests in both Suffolk and Nassau counties were either for driving while intoxicated or drug-related charges. Such high a percentage of arrests that are directly related to substance use is a cry for help. If that percentage had included the number of arrests for crimes commonly driven by addiction such as shoplifting, burglary, and solicitation it would be much higher and display that Long Islanders are yearning for a solution. Drug treatment is being made easily accessible on Long Island due to the opioid crisis we’re currently facing, yet we continue to send addicts to prison instead of treatment where they could have a chance to truly recover.
Many people view addiction as a choice and therefor a crime, however, we wouldn’t wish this upon our worst enemies. We don’t dream of becoming dependent upon substances, destroying every aspect of our lives, and playing Russian roulette each time we use. There are psychological problems we have that we believe getting high can either repair or hide. Our psychiatric issues can’t be cuffed and locked away, they must be treated properly.
While incarcerated, those underlying problems are not being dealt with. We are not being treated by psychiatrists or therapists. We are not receiving the proper medications. We are not in a safe environment and drugs are made easily available. We are not taught how to stay clean once we are released. When we are freed from our cells, recovery is usually on the backburner and getting high is front and center. Jails and prisons are not healing our addictions but setting us up to be arrested time and time again.
Another common argument against addicts seeking proper treatment is that we are all miscreants and burdens on society who should be taken down the road to never return again. People who use this argument seem to have forgotten that anyone can be an addict. This includes their friends, neighbors, parents, children, or even themselves. Getting sent to a drug treatment center in Long Island where you could receive the proper care and be given a jchance to recover from your substance abuse problems sounds like a way better option than the county jail when you insert yourself in to the situation.
Criminalizing addicts only keeps us trapped in the cycle and aids in us getting worse. We will, more than likely, commit more heinous crimes that affect more of our communities, dig ourselves in to a deeper hole of using, and could die if we don’t get help. Sending us to drug treatment upon arrest can give us a chance to finally break free from the shackles of our addiction and grow in to the responsible, productive members of society that Long Island needs us to be.