The focus of this paper is incarceration versus treatment of low level drug offenders in California. The viewpoint in favor of incarceration is supported by the deterrence and incapacitation theory. This theory promotes increased arrests, prosecutions, and prison sentences as the primary means to dissuade drug use and street crime by removing the offender from the community. The theory further states that by implementing stricter sanctions targeting low level drug offenders further reduces drug related crime by increasing the personal costs of drug use among incipient users. Opposing arguments state that by simply punishing the offender it does not address the underlying causes of drug use and addiction. The people that hold this standpoint feel treatment would be an effective solution. My viewpoint coincides with the later argument. I feel the costs as well as the effectiveness of treatment outweigh that of incarceration.I plan to discuss costs and effectiveness respectively, in regards to each viewpoint.
According to the California Department of Corrections (CDC), it costs an average of $21,470 per year to house an inmate in a California state prison. The breakdown of this amount is as follows (in average costs per year): $193 reception/ diagnosis, $9,833 security, $3,263 health care, $6,892 cost of living, and $1,288 for inmate work/training. In addition, Pape of Los Angeles states that the capital cost of building one prison cell is approximately $80,000. Focusing on treatment, the estimated annual cost is $2,500 per offender (Pape). Take for instance a 200-person sample. It would cost nearly 4.3 million dollars to house those 200 people in a California state prison versus the cost of approximately $500,000 for those same 200 hundred people to participate in an offender specific drug treatment program. Not to mention the “on-street” savings of the offenders who successfully complete the program and become employed, discontinue welfare, and pay taxes. In regards to the cost aspect of incarceration versus treatment, considering the above stated figures, treatment is heavily beneficial.
California leads the nation in the number of drug offenders incarcerated. The statistic is a staggering 132 per 100,000 of the population versus a national average of 45 per 100,000 of the population. In 1999, 12,749 Californians were sent to prison for low level drug offenses, such as possession. This is an increase of over 20-fold compared to the 379 Californians sent to prison for the same crime in 1980(Justice Policy Institute). Though overall crime is down in California, data show that stricter drug enforcement in regards to low level offenses is not associated with the decline in crime rates or drug use. Continuing, increased arrests of low-level drug offenders are significantly correlated with slower declines in property crime, and an increase in violent crime (Justice Policy Institute). According to Pape, those who complete a drug treatment program are four times less likely to be arrested for criminal activity. As veteran district attorney of 30 years, Gil Garcetti states in support of treatment programs “…from my own experience, I realize the proper response to people’s drug addictions isn’t to send them to prison.” As further support, an independent five year study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that 63% of low level offenders incarcerated and not in a treatment program were reincarcerated for a drug related crime within a year of their release (Mullen 118). The overwhelming figures on both sides of the spectrum are in favor of treatment versus of incarceration of low level drug offenders.
In closing, here is a reiteration of the facts supporting the use of drug treatment programs versus incarceration for low level drug offenders. The overpowering figures in regards to cost exhibit the millions that could be potentially saved if California focuses its energy towards treatment and not incarceration. The figures displaying the effectiveness in regards to crime rate and reincarceration for the same offense also show heavy support for treatment programs. I feel the implementation of treatment programs over incarceration for low level drug offenders would be greatly beneficial for both the offender as well as the state of California.
California Department of Corrections. “The cost of housing an Inmate.” http://www.cdc.state.ca.us/inmtctst.htm}.
Justice Policy Institute. “Drug and Justice: An Examination of California Drug Policy Enforcement.” October 2000: 1-13. http://www.cjcj.org/cadrug/cadrug.html}.
Mullen, Rod. “California Program Reduces Recidivism and Saves Tax Dollars.”Corrections Today v58 August 1996: 118+
Pape, Eric. “The Dope Show.” Los Angeles 44 no5 May 1999: 36+