Incarceration vs. Rehabilitation: What Works?

Incarceration vs. Rehabilitation: What Works?

A big debate related to how to handle the legal consequences of drug and alcohol addiction has taken place for decades. When a person faces arrest for possession of drugs or driving while intoxicated, they face a trip through the legal system. The subject many people debate relates to incarceration vs. rehabilitation. 

Some people believe the only thing to do is follow a ‘Lock ‘em up and teach them a lesson!’ approach. They think that treating the arrest solely as a legal issue provides all necessary resolve. What they may not account for involves the high rate of recidivism. Many believe this phenomenon indicates no lesson is learned if punishment by the legal system is the only action taken. 

Another school of thought involves addressing any addiction to drugs or alcohol that contributed to a person’s arrest. This plan allows for a more well-rounded approach to what contributed to someone being arrested for a drug or alcohol-related charge. The belief is that viewing the big picture leads to fewer arrests and a real help with addiction.

The Argument for Rehabilitation Over Incarceration

Many people believe that separating out legal charges related to widespread distribution or large amounts of possession from lesser charges will make a difference. They see a difference between someone who is clearly distributing vast amounts of narcotics versus a person who possesses a small amount for personal usage. The latter is considered much less of a threat to society. 

A person with a small amount of drugs may be suffering from a substance abuse disorder. The same often proves true for someone arrested for an alcohol-related charge. Lumping everyone together and relegating them to the legal system often begins a cycle of repeated arrests and prison time. When no assistance for recovering from their addiction comes with the trip through the legal system, recidivism becomes a real risk. 

Many people understand the impulse to want to punish those who have committed crimes. Others point out that a one-size-fits-all punishment does not exist. Their goals include helping those who enter the legal system by offering an option for treating the root cause of their crimes. This greatly reduces the likelihood that they will offend again. 

Incarceration vs. Rehabilitation: Which Costs More? 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that the cost of treating drug addiction proves considerably less than what it costs to let the legal system handle addiction-related crimes without treatment. The NIDA report showed that treatment for drug abuse reduces drug use. It also ultimately saves money related to health care, lost productivity, crime, and incarceration.  

For people serving time in the prison system, an offer of help to deal with their cravings can help tremendously. Opioid-addicted prisoners who are provided with methadone treatment show reduced drug usage. 

A study done by RTI International and Temple University examined the cost of incarceration vs. rehabilitation. The study showed that nearly half of all state prisoners are either drug dependent or drug abusers. Of these, only 10% receive drug treatment while in prison. According to the report published in Crime & Delinquency, sending just 40% of eligible offenders to community-based treatment programs instead of prison would save the criminal justice system $12.9 billion. 

This plan helps by reducing crime rates and causing a huge drop in the number of incarcerations. As well, offenders who sought treatment were less likely to re-offend and face more legal consequences.

Oregon Law Decriminalizes Possession In Favor of Treatment

This past February, Oregon passed a groundbreaking piece of legislation related to arrests for possession of illegal narcotics. It became the first state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of drugs, including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, and oxycodone. 

Oregon now offers treatment to those arrested as an alternative to serving a prison sentence. If the person agrees to enter treatment, they either pay a fine of up to $100 or complete a health assessment at an addiction recovery center. This new law allows them to address any substance abuse disorder they have and avoid a prison sentence.

Oregon’s new law provides the entire country with an opportunity to observe its results. It puts the question of incarceration vs. rehabilitation to the test. Those who believe that treating addiction leads to reforming an outdated and ineffective prison system hold great hope for where this new legislation could lead. When addiction is treated as an alternative to jail time, it can remove a great deal of the revolving door policy that happens to those who are only punished by the prison system. 

Mental Health Issues Often Accompany Addiction

Co-occurring mental health conditions often present in a person who deals with substance use disorder. These diagnoses include anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. 

Individual treatment professionals, residential programs, and other addiction programs often also offer help for mental health issues. Time spent incarcerated rarely includes the benefits that addressing both addiction and underlying mental health diagnoses can provide. 

Addiction Treatment in Arizona

Continuum Recovery Center offers a well-rounded treatment plan that addresses both addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. We offer an extensive plan that includes holistic treatments in order to treat all aspects of the needs of our clients. 

If you have experienced legal complications related to drugs or alcohol, let us help you. If you are ready to address your addiction to drugs or alcohol, get in touch with our Phoenix facility today. Contact us here.