Felonies or Rehab: What’s the Right Answer?
In my lifetime, I’ve seen our criminal justice system’s response to the rapidly escalating drug problem to be harsher and harsher penalties and more severe felony records. Our solution has been to close the doors and throw away the key, only to be unlocked after a lengthy jail sentence, accompanied by a felony record that creates multiple barriers to transitioning back into society and living a relatively “normal” life.
Considering how often addiction is hitting home these days, it’s easy to see why this “treatment plan” for the country’s addiction problem keeps failing.
Let’s forget trafficking for the moment and just talk about simple possession. Illegal possession of narcotics—things like prescription drugs, heroin, cocaine, meth, etc.—all carry automatic felony charges for possession. This means that every person currently suffering from addiction is committing a felony nearly every single day. The only logic I can see in this is a punishment- scare tactic to encourage people not to carry drugs. The problem with that logic is that our drug problem is rooted in addiction and an addict who is knee-deep in substance abuse will always choose the drug over any potential consequences.
So, an addict gets locked up and slapped with a felony record and this is supposed to give somebody motivation to clean up their life? In nearly every job application I’ve filled out, the one question that is universally asked is, “have you ever been convicted of a felony?” If the answer is “Yes,” this is a near-automatic elimination from the possibility of getting a very high percentage of jobs. This is a barrier created for addicts all over the country.
If an addict needs one thing, it’s the motivation to live a clean and healthy life. Sometimes the pain and suffering that addicts experience is enough to push them in the right direction and to seek help, but if jail time and felony records and other barriers to society are what’s on the other side of getting clean, how many people will actually be properly motivated to stay that way once this reality sets in?
For many addicts with no money for expensive lawyers or treatment facilities, jail becomes the go-to solution. What’s left for them however is no rehabilitation for the problem, addiction, punishment in jail and a record that makes it extremely difficult to thrive in this world.
If we want the drug problem in America to get better, we need to stop punishing the addict for possessing drugs and start addressing the real problem—addiction. Putting a fraction of the money going into the prison system towards drug rehabilitation programs and wiping damaging felony records once an addict gets clean would be a great first step in actually helping our society and handling the drug epidemic sweeping the nation.
Justin P—Narconon Suncoast Graduate