Dear Mr./Mrs. President,
The government’s use of incarceration as a punitive measure for drug offenses should be replaced by addiction treatment and rehabilitation. The excessive prison sentences associated with drug charges are the underlying causes of prison overcrowding, treatment unavailability, and the nationwide tension between law enforcement and their constituents.
I believe that if we, as a nation, change our view on drug laws, we will be more successful in not only decreasing the harmful effects of drugs, but also decreasing the harm done by the drug laws themselves. With a new president comes a clean slate and a perfect opportunity for change. The legislative changes from incarceration to rehabilitation will immediately remedy the biggest flaw in our drug penal system which is the lack of treatment.
Drug treatment options in the United States have been limited to simple, one size fits all, twelve step programs, but with the fiscal gains of housing fewer drug offenders there will be ample funds for individualized treatment options. According to drugpolicy.org, “Many people who seek help for their problematic drug use are unable to access treatment, encountering insurance barriers, month long wait lists, or programs that don't meet their needs.” If drug addicts are unable to access treatment, the cycle of use, prison, relapse, and repeat will never be broken. I believe that the best way to counter the lack of treatment is to make it similar to the availability of a lawyer to anyone accused of a crime. Anytime an individual is charged with a drug offense, said individual must be offered and possibly sentenced to attend adequate treatment. The transfer of addicts from prison to rehabilitation facilities will make enormous gains in reducing America’s imprisoned population.
As of August 27th, 2016, 46.4% of the population in federal prison are serving time for drug offenses. This means we could immediately cut our federal prison population in half by transferring these individuals to treatment centers. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics 16% of the people in state prisons have a drug crime as the most serious offense on their record. These people are not dangers to society who need to be incarcerated for the safety of others. They are people suffering from the disease of addiction that have just as much to offer to society as anyone else. John F Kennedy once said, “Ask not what your country can do for you - Ask what you can do for your country.” In order for drug addicts to fulfil their obligation to society they must be rehabilitated and reinstated into society, not left to rot in prison. In reducing incarceration of nonviolent offenders, the tension created by these sentences will decrease.
Since the 1970’s, drug war practices have led to the conviction and marginalization of millions of Americans, especially those who are poor or of color. Coincidentally police-constituent tensions are higher in these often urban, poverty stricken areas. The excessive enforcement of drug laws and harsh sentences have left the populations of these areas bitter and hostile to law enforcement as they feel they are being targeted and treated unfairly. As the great Tupac Shakur once said, “Instead of a war on poverty, they (the police/government) got a war on drugs so the police can bother me.” The effects of this tension have been catastrophic, and if nothing is done, more eruptions such as those in Dallas and Baton Rouge are imminent.
When the holistic harm done by our current drug policy is compared to that of a rehab-based policy, it is clear that change is due. America is successful because we are ever-evolving and this half-century-old policy has expired. We, the people of the United States, deserve a drug policy that works for the people in the sense that it’s main goal is to cure the user of their addiction, and you Mr./Mrs. President are in the position to make that a reality.
Obviously, you don’t have to listen to me or accept my views, as you are most likely more knowledgeable than I am on the subject, but I want to pose one question to you. Do you want to be known as the president who sat back and let the nation coast, or the president who drove the nation forward initiating change and keeping America the great country it is?