Reports from May and June in Jefferson County show an increase in drug overdoses. COVID-19 and bail reform are being blamed as the variables which led to this spike. This increase in overdoses shows that drug addicts are dependent on the government for help. A rehabilitative approach, rather than a punitive one, is more effective in recovery from drug addiction.

COVID-19’s Role In The Increase Of Overdoses

Since the issuance of $1,200 federal stimulus checks, many people find themselves with more money readily available. Officials believe that this has prompted dealers to buy more drugs from Syracuse and distribute in Jefferson County to their customers who also have more money to spend. This general increase in circulation of drugs, paired with individuals’ increase in funds, accounts for the increase in abuse of those drugs and therefore overdoses.

Bail-Reform’s Role In The Increases of Overdoses

Although the stimulus checks due to COIVD-19 can account for the initial increase, bail reform is being blamed for the perpetuation of the problem and the feeling of helplessness. Due to bail reform in New York, low level offenses no longer lead to jail time; instead, offenders are given an appearance ticket. According to the Jefferson County District Attorney, without the opportunity to go to jail, many drug addicts are missing out on a treatment opportunity, and therefore, there is an increase in overdoses. This shows that there is a dependence of drug addicts on being caught, arrested, convicted, and sent to prison, in order to get the treatment they need to prevent overdosing. Clearly, there is something wrong with a system wherein to receive help with addiction, people must risk their own freedom, safety, future career aspirations, etc. and be incarcerated.

Why Rehabilitation Is More Effective Than Punishment

From 1980 to 2013, there has been an over 1,000 percent increase in the number of people arrested, convicted, and incarcerated for drug related crimes. Most of these people are arrested for possession, meaning that there are high levels of addiction among them. Since the declaration of the “War on Drugs” by the Reagan administration, drug addiction has been viewed as a criminal issue, rather than as a disease and disorder. The effect of this is that drug use and abuse are treated with severity and harshness, rather than understanding and helpful treatment. Even though there is a recent movement of rather “treat than fight”, there is still more general support for tough on crime, and on drug offense, policies. Bail reform is still considered radical, being that bail itself is part of the constitution in the eighth amendment. Changing how bail works and making it less prevalent has improved many significant issues in the criminal justice system. This is why fixing any new issues, such as inadequate or nonexistent care for drug addicts, is imperative.

The two primary schools of thought in criminal justice are deterrence and rehabilitation. Deterrence is a punitive approach consisting of the infliction of pain, while rehabilitation is more therapeutic. Although rehabilitative practices are being increasingly implemented into the criminal justice system, incarceration and other deterrence-based practices remain a large part of a drug offenders’ experience. A study of 263 participants in Brooklyn’s Drug Treatment Alternative-to-Incarceration program, found that residential drug treatment, rather than incarceration, was more effective in reducing the likelihood of recidivism. A comprehensive treatment approach to drug addiction is more likely to actually help someone convicted of a drug offense to recover, or at least not reoffend.

Incarcerated Rehabilitation Vs. A Treatment Center

Given that treatment is more effective than incarceration or other punitive measures, why is a treatment facility in a prison inadequate? Firstly, the study of Brooklyn’s Drug Treatment Alternative-to-incarceration program found that in the case of hybrid incarceration and treatment, not only was incarceration ineffective in deterrence, but it even had the influence of causing criminal behavior. In addition to this, treatment centers in jails and prisons are wholly inadequate, if not often nonexistent. This is unacceptable, especially considering that about 45 percent of the prison and jail population suffers from substance abuse or dependence. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that only 11 percent of inmates with substance abuse problems received treatment. So not only is drug addiction treatment in prisons and jails rare, but it is also largely ineffective. Although, of course, any resources and treatment are better than none, a treatment center that is not in conjunction with incarceration is really most effective.

Rehabilitative centers that are not attached to a jail or prison have the resources to have a personal approach to each individual’s needs, meaning that they can also work on treating co-occurring disorders. Alan Leshner, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, finds individualized approach essential in effective treatment. Leshner also states that the length of treatment is important. Since prisons and jails do not mandate the length of stay tailored to an inmates’ progress, premature release may halt and erase any progress. Another essential part of addiction recovery is the detoxification phase. Less than 30 jails and prisons are able to provide methadone and buprenorphine, which are detoxification medications.  Methadone, specifically, was found to effectively reduce recidivism and increase employment of former inmates. Although medical detoxification needs to be paired with other rehabilitative practices, this initial step helps set up successful drug addiction treatment. Evidence also supports that treatment is much more inexpensive than the cost of incarceration, especially when it effectively prevents recidivism and its economic burden.

The Importance Of Treatment and Recovery

This evidence suggests that rather than criminalizing and punishing drug addicts, a rehabilitative approach in a treatment center is better for the individuals, as they will receive more comprehensive and effective care, and also for the jails and prisons, who will benefit economically by the reduction in recidivism. Treatment and recovery, rather than punishment, are important for drug addicts because they can truncate the often long-lasting and snowballing effects of incarceration and nontreatment, such as inability to become employed, the need to pay for drugs, strain on mental health, etc. These side-effects of drug addiction not only affect the individual, but society at large.

Part of the responsibility of the criminal justice system is to rehabilitate offenders so that they can re-enter society and be law-abiding. If this is really the interest of the government, then the approach which yields the most success with this must be implemented; rehabilitative treatment centers are the most successful approach.

Although any treatment is better than none, the current dependence drug addicts have on the criminal justice system arresting them and providing treatment while they are incarcerated is only a temporary solution which has proven to be largely ineffective. Ideally, rehabilitation centers for addiction should be provided by the government free of charge, as this would eliminate the need for people to commit a criminal act in order to receive treatment. It is in everyone’s best interest to help drug addicts recover and end the cycle of arrest, incarceration, release, and re-offense.