Deck Chairs On The Addiction Titanic

by Joshua Hoe

There has been a TON of press recently about how the skies have opened up and real reform is coming to liberalize the nations approach to addiction and criminal justice.

IMHO most of what I have seen so far is utter nonsense. With one exception, Bernie Sanders (alone) says that addiction is a public health and not a criminal problem.

All of the other proposals I have seen still consider addiction a Moral Failure.

All of the other proposals I have seen still treat all but the most benign “addicts” through the lens of being criminal justice problems.

This promised summer is nothing but a Prague Spring.

Hillary Clinton

Here is one version of what HRC has said about addiction:

“We also must prioritize treatment and rehabilitation — rather than incarceration — for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. Over half of state prison and local jail inmates suffer from a mental health problem, and up to 65 percent of the correctional population meets the medical criteria for a substance use disorder. I will ensure adequate training for law enforcement for crisis intervention and referral to treatment. I will also direct the attorney general to issue guidance to federal prosecutors on prioritizing rehabilitation and treatment over incarceration for people who commit low-level, nonviolent crimes and also suffer addiction or mental health problems.”

More specifically, she seems to suggest the same deferred judgement type approaches favored by the GOP in general. As near as I can tell (from this and what she has said in the debates) she wants drugs to remain criminalized, for people to have non-criminal sentences for a first low-level offense, and more rehab and treatment in prisons and jails.

Lots of reasons I disagree with this type of approach:

* People do not relapse because of a moral failing and addiction is not a moral failing, it is a public health and not a criminal problem.

* People should 100% not get a free pass for crimes committed while acting out.

However, part of the problem is it is criminal to use most substances (aside from prescription drugs – a whole different addiction issue).

In other words, as long as you continue to make drug use itself a crime, you probably will not have much of a revolutionary effect.

Drug use should NOT be a criminal act. No matter if it is low-level or high level.

* Even more disturbing HRC is not even for relaxing Marijuana laws in virtually any cases. If she cannot even see why legalizing Marijuana is necessary, she is not going to have much of an effect.

This might seem a bit odd, given I am a recovery blogger. I do not think jail or prison helps anyone recover (and I have been there – so I have some experience on this subject).

To be 100% honest, her answers at the Nevada Town Hall on the drug question were shocking to me, she is very hard line on drugs:

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz

As near as I can tell both of these candidates believe the answer his border security and better interdiction. They both seem to prefer a punitive approach to drugs in general, although many years ago Trump was for Marijuana legalization.

This will only increase demand and has never, even in the harshest years of enforcement, stopped people from getting drugs.

Here is what the spokesman for the DEA says on the matter:

“Payne declined to discuss the 2016 candidates’ focus on security to combat the drug crisis. But he noted: “It’s about addiction.… We’ve gotta reduce demand. We’re cops, we go after bad guys, but you’ve got to have a multifaceted approach,” Payne said. No matter how much is taken off the streets, the crackdown has little effect on the flood of readily-available drugs, Willard said. “We need to shrink the pool of addiction,” he said. “That’s how we’re going to stem this tide — it’s not going be through law enforcement efforts. He laughs and covers his face with both hands when discussing whether a big border wall would stop New Hampshire’s drug crisis, as Trump and Cruz claim.”

Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio is even farther right, he is for enforcing Federal Laws on States who liberalize Marijuana laws. However, he has been a bit more understanding in the treatment of addiction (at least in the case of Heroin):

“Marco Rubio has called for a broader approach to combating the heroin epidemic, arguing that the issue deserves to be treated as a “medical condition.” There’s a stigma associated with addiction, says Rubio, who earlier this month co-sponsored a bill called the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. With an eye on the link between prescription painkillers and heroin addiction, the bill would strengthen prescription drug monitoring programs; it would expand disposal sites for unwanted medications; increase the availability of naloxone among first responders; increase treatment resources for the incarcerated; and expand prevention and education efforts.”

Bernie Sanders

Pretty simple, he thinks addiction is a medical and not a criminal problem.

The ONLY truly radical (and meaningful) response to the problem is ending the war on drugs and making addiction about health and treatment NOT about criminal justice.

Most all of the research I have seen suggests that Harm Reduction is much superior to criminal justice approaches to drugs.

The drug war only increases demand pushing prices higher and creating the need to protect supply. Never once, has intercepting supply or increasing interdiction interfered with supply.

Oh, and enforcement of the WOD’s and the high prices created by enforcement are the cause of virtually all of the violence.


The problem with most all of this supposed “reform” is that it misses the point.

Many of the reforms to sentencing, IMHO are only moving deck chairs on the criminal justice Titanic. Much of this sounds good, but as The Intercept explains:

“As Michelle Chen noted in a piece for The Nation, “Reform initiatives like rehabilitation and employment programs focus on making ‘corrections’ less punitive. But they maintain the political framework of ‘redeeming’ bad people, rather than dismantling antisocial systems.” Chen points out how a “treatment industrial complex” could, and is already, replacing the prison industrial complex. She adds, “Many of the dollars expected to be ‘saved’ from shuttering prisons may simply be funneled into privatized ‘alternatives to incarceration’ like parole programs and halfway houses.”
Not only is this shift well underway, I’d submit it is among key conditions enabling the political will to reform prisons to arise. As Foucault said with haunting prescience in 1975: “Criminal psychiatry and psychology risk becoming the ultimate alibi behind which the prevailing system will hide in order to remain unchanged. They could not possibly suggest a serious alternative to the prison system for the simple reason that they owe their origins to it.” Prison reform, even the abolition of brick-and-mortar prisons, is about the crucial goal of removing humans from cages. As an end, even this is insufficient if we are not in the business of setting people free.”

And as The Intercept concludes (probably the truest thing I have read in a LONG time):

“If we truly are moving away from mass incarceration, we should remember that criminal justice does not rely on prisons to alienate and oppress. It relies more fundamentally on the category of “criminal,” and who gets to fall into it. It is a category that needs drastic undoing, not reforming.”

As long as addiction is seen as a criminal problem, as a moral failing, addicts will continue to face harsh consequences including shame and social dislocation (two of the largest triggers for acting out).

What we need is a revolution, not a better looking bridge on the US Titanic. Don’t believe the hype.


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