Upon walking into the visitation room, I could only notice three things. One, my uncle was smiling because his family came to see him; two, there was an inmate behind him with track marks on his arms; and three, I could not take my eyes off of this stranger, the one with the battle scars he earned through years of drugs and desperation. As I stared at this stranger, I couldn’t help but to ask my uncle why this man was so indifferent to his own appearance. My uncle just told me that the mystery man was one of many with holes in his arms and addiction on his mind. I then questioned his seriousness, believing that prisons would be one of the most drug-free places in America. Without skipping a beat, my uncle told me that drugs are sometimes easier to get in prison than it is on the streets. How counter-productive is that? Why does America end up sending people to prison to get them away from drugs, just to expose them to substances that are much stronger and more addictive?
The amount of non-violent offenders that reside in prisons is on the rise. More often than not, we see the petty thief over the mass murderer; the narcotics-selling entrepreneur over the child molester; and, the most common offender, the drug consumer. He resides over the lowly child abductor. This doesn’t seem too fair. Why are these people all living under the same roof? Shouldn’t non-violent criminals get an option of what happens to them when it comes to their future and the rest of their lives? Prisons should offer therapy instead of harsh sentences to non-violent criminals and drug offenders.
On a positive note, therapy proves to be a great alternative for many different reasons. Not only is it a better path when it comes to a life sentence in prison, it has many helpful qualities backing it. Therapy sessions help reduce recidivism, is way cheaper than sending the offender to prison, and it can help reduce the already massive population in the prison system (McVay).
Recidivism, by definition, means to go back to the way you were before receiving help after committing a crime. It is most common among drug consumers and people battling addiction. Another common thing we see are drug users going to jail for possession and usage of illegal narcotics. More often than not, an individual will spend a few months in jail without their drug of choice, not receive the help they need to get over their addiction, then go straight back to their drug after spending the short amount of time away from it. It’s almost as though it doesn’t make a difference on why they went to jail or whether or not they are willing to go again. When it comes to addiction, many people do not care what happens to them, as long as they can get a hold of their drug at the end of the day. With therapy, this individual may learn the importance of a life not ruled by drugs. If therapy were offered instead of sending the person to jail, it could help the person in getting over their addiction and eventually it will lead to a lower rate of recidivism (McVay).
According to statistics, sending people to therapy costs about 1/3 of the amount it does to send people to prison (McVay). Although prison offers a free place to sleep, three square meals a day, and free entertainment to those who reside there, it is an expensive burden not only to America’s taxpayers, but, also to the welfare of the U.S. government. With therapy, a prisoner experiences life-altering changes and they also see what it’s like to lead a life that is not ruled by drugs. According to the men at the Justice Policy Institute, drug addicted defendants that plead guilty and went to a community treatment system had higher graduation rates and lower arrest rates. It is also significantly cheaper to send someone to therapy and get them the help they need rather than sending them to prison to waste money and resources that can be used elsewhere. I would rather that stranger in the prison get help so he doesn’t have to live in prison for the rest of his life. It would give me peace of mind to know that my taxes are improving lives rather than being spent on such foolish things like keeping innocent people in prison.
The over-population in American prisons is at an overwhelmingly high rate (Knafo). According to Senator Mark Leno, SB 649 (a bill that would charge people with drug offenses with misdemeanors instead of felonies)’s primary author, said, “We currently have over 4,100 state prison inmates who are serving time for simple possession” (Knafo). In one cell, we may see two murderers that are spending their life sentences together. In another cell, one may see two junkies that are suffering through the same war, unknowing of their own outcomes. It’s disappointing to know that populations could be lowered if the non-violent offenders were offered a different route, such as therapy (Knafo). If we could get them out, we could make room in prisons for the people who deserve to be there.
Another benefit of lowering the populations in the prisons is that the violence rate would decrease as well (McLaughlin). The more inmates that are forced into a cell, the higher the tension will get. According to McLaughlin, two and three inmates are bunked in cells that are designed for one singular inmate. The higher the tension gets, the more susceptible inmates are to retaliate and get violent. Innocent people are getting hurt inside and outside of the prisons. Why are we continuing to harm people who don’t deserve unnecessary punishment?
Prison is for bad people, not for people in a bad situation. Let’s keep it that way.
Knafo, Saki. “California Bill Would Give Drug Users Treatment Instead of Prison Time.”
http://www.huffingtonpost.com. Huffington Post, 11 Sep 2013. Web. 29 Sep 2013.
McLaughlin, Michael. “Overcrowding In Federal Prisons Harms Inmates, Guards: GAO
Report.”http://www.huffingtonpost.com. Huffington Post, 15 Sep 2012. Web. 25 Sep 2013.
McVay, Doug, Vincent Schiraldi, and Jason Ziedenberg.http://www.justicepolicy.org. N.p., n.d. Web.
25 Sep 2013.