Crime and Treatment – Waldo County VillageSoup


An estimated 65% of American inmates suffer from a substance use disorder, and many suffer from one or more other forms of mental illness. That means hundreds of thousands of Americans behind bars are sick. Often, it was illness that landed them there.

Of Maine’s 38,893 arrests in 2019, about one in 11 — 3,614 — were for drug offenses, according to a report by the ACLU of Maine and the left-leaning Maine Center for Economic Policy. About three-quarters of them were for drug possession charges.

Although the sentencing guidelines for supplying and trafficking are more stringent, even possession of a tiny amount of the drug can result in serious penalties. A Mainer with no prior drug conviction who is convicted of possession of up to 200 milligrams of methamphetamine, cocaine or heroin faces up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000. $. Then there are the costs incurred by society in prosecuting crimes and enforcing sentences.

The vast majority of possession cases are resolved through plea agreements. The median sentence for possession in 2019 was 90 days in county jail and a $400 fine, according to the ACLU/MCEP report.

Those who work in the justice system know intimately the toll of substance abuse on the community and their caseloads. An alternative route, Maine’s Adult Drug Treatment Courts, offers a deferred sentence in exchange for attending a treatment program. County jails try to provide adequate support to inmates while they are incarcerated and as they prepare for release. But is it fair or even practical to put corrections professionals on the front lines of public health? Can we hope to both punish and heal?

The ACLU and Maine Center for Economic Policy advocate for the decriminalization of drug use and possession and instead invest in things like treatment, recuperative housing and mental health. The current system is both costly and inefficient, they point out.

Portugal decriminalized drug use in 2001. People found with small amounts of drugs go before a panel to determine the individual’s level of risk and next steps. This may include inaction, referral of the person to counseling or treatment programmes, fines or community service. Selling or trafficking drugs is still illegal. Overdose deaths and new cases of HIV and AIDS among Portuguese drug users fell between 2001 and 2015. At the same time, the number of people receiving treatment increased significantly. The data are promising, but it is difficult to isolate the effect of decriminalization alone. The accessibility of treatment options was a crucial factor.

Blunt as the instrument is, a drug accusation is an opportunity to intervene. We need to make better use of this opportunity and the many missed opportunities that precede it. We need to invest in addiction treatment and mental health as essential public infrastructure. And we need to provide more opportunities for people to seek help without stigma or the risk of legal problems.

Reprinted from The Ellsworth American.

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