Ravaged by the opioid crisis, the policymakers and the law enforcement officials in the United States have been forced to amend their approach towards the addiction patients accused of drug-related offenses. Being sympathetic to them, many now advocate proper treatment to them rather than time in jail. However, now even that approach seems to be changing, with some contemplating making jail time mandatory for drug users who violate their probation.
Republican Representative Niraj Antani introduced a bill HB457 in the Ohio House recently, which recommends a mandatory jail time or rehab to help those struggling with addiction by removing them from a drug-infested environment and putting them at a “safe place” until the right treatment is available. Introduced on Dec. 28, 2017, HB457 was referred to the Criminal Justice Committee by the House on Jan. 16, 2018.
If implemented, the bill would require those on parole or probation who test positive for illegal opioids to be sent to prison or to a 30-day residential drug treatment program. As the bill does not include additional funding for drug treatment programs or jails, the expenses will be borne by the offender himself/herself.
Opioid abuse continues to be a serious public health issue in the U.S., with cases of overdose claiming 91 lives every day. The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reveals that approximately 11.8 million Americans (aged 12 or above) and 891,000 adolescents (aged 12 to 17) misused opioids in the past year.
Is jail the right place for those struggling with addiction?
According to Rep. Antani, the bill was inspired by 31-year-old Scottie Childers who failed a drug test while on probation but was never arrested. He feels that instead of arresting the man and sending him to jail where he could be safe, the probation officer let him go that eventually contributed to his drug overdose.
The father of five was caught between drug addiction, jail term, treatment and relapse for four years, and eventually died of an overdose in January 2017. As part of his probation, he was required to take a drug test that he failed but was not sent to prison.
Childers’ mother Linda Chambers believed that while no one knew when his addiction to drugs was going to kill him, had he been sent to jail, he would not have died four hours later. Though she agrees that one cannot “arrest the problem,” until treatment is arranged, jail is a “safe place” for those struggling with addiction.
Is overcrowding in jail better than overdose deaths?
Though Antani acknowledges that, if passed, the bill would put many behind bars, his main concern is to save those struggling with addiction and getting no respite. He believes that it’s better to get jails a bit more crowded than letting many die of drug overdoses.
While Antani continues to believe that sending someone addicted to drugs to jail could act as a deterrent, some people think otherwise. One such person is Helen Jones-Kelley, executive director of Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services. She believes that rather than sending addicted people to overpopulated jails, there are better ways to help them by encouraging them for rehabilitation.
However, rehab works best when the decision to seek treatment comes from within. While jail time might be an option to deal with someone who is prone to relapse, it certainly does not serve as a deterrent.
Help at hand
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