Where has our war on drugs gotten us thus far? Currently, nearly 500,000 Americans are incarcerated for drug law violations, a ten-fold increase in two decades. The overall inmate population has quadrupled to nearly 2 million arrests for drug law violations and continues to rise. The vast majority of these arrests are for simple possession. (Crime in The United States, Uniform Crime Reports, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1999.) Personally, three convicted drug-users have shared their battle with addiction with me; the results of these conversations were far from optimistic. Of the two who have become reformed drug-users, a constant battle is being waged, it can only be said that jail terms served irrelevant in their personal war. Both found consistent access to their drug of choice while in the confines of the penitentiary wall. Despite heightened security attempts and extensive lip service to the strengthening of the "war on drugs" these users faced access every single day, so to how is jail time the answer?
The simple answer seems to lie in the words of one of these convicted users themselves, "Only one thing has kept me from going back to using and I certainly didn't find it while I was incarcerated, when I got out, I was faced with the reality that I had lost my family, my job, everything I had come to value became the shadow of my former life. I had two options, to continue down the path that addiction had brought me or to check myself into rehab. I chose the latter… it was the only sound decision I made in my life thus far." When posed with the question of whether drug probation and treatment would have affected the path this user had taken he offered only this. "I don't know if I deserved a second chance, nothing could justify what I had done. But if they had wanted to keep one more person from becoming what I did, well I can only say that that probably would have been the way to do it."
Would Proposition 36 be a financially sound investment for taxpayers? If we are going to seriously consider an alternative solution to the financially murderous process of our current drug policies, one must take fiscal responsibility into consideration. A California governmental study showed that taxpayers save $7 for every $1 invested in drug treatment. The state's impartial Legislative Analyst says Proposition 36 can save California hundreds of millions of dollars a year, even after spending $120 million annually on treatment programs. In comparison, "The average cost to the taxpayer of California per inmate, per year is $23, 406." (Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997.) "The average cost of a full treatment program per client is $4,300." (National Treatment Evaluation Study, Center for Substance Abuse, 1997.) Beyond these statistics, "Currently, only 12% of the overall parole system budget is spent reintegrating paroles back into society." (Legislative...