The impact of adding treatment to the criminal justice system is no surprise to me. So many times we as a society ignore basic problems like addiction, illiteracy or mental health in the name of personal responsibility. We also ignore the outside contributors that must be addressed if the person who decides to change will have their efforts sabotaged and then say "I told you so" when the troubled person fails.
It is one of the least-told stories in American crime-fighting. New York, the safest big city in the nation, achieved its now-legendary 70-percent drop in homicides even as it locked up fewer and fewer of its citizens during the past decade. The number of prisoners in the city has dropped from 21,449 in 1993 to 14,129 this past week. That runs counter to the national trend, in which prison admissions have jumped 72 percent during that time. Nearly 2.2 million Americans now live behind bars, about eight times as many as in 1975 and the most per capita in the Western world.
Approximately 60 percent of U.S. convicts serve time for charges related to drug peddling and addiction. In California, 65,000 parolees fail drug tests each year and are recycled back to prison each year. They serve, on average, an additional four months, at a cost of $1 billion.
City and state prisons in New York also turned aggressively to drug treatment and mental health counseling. They did so as a matter of enlightened self-interest. The city prison system is the second-largest mental health provider in the nation; only the Los Angeles County system surpasses it.
When groups of people fail, we collectively pay the price.
Technorati tags: crime politics