Emphasis on Treatment Over Criminal Penalties
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has released its new 2013 strategy to fight drug abuse in America, and it marks a departure from the "war on drugs" many have become familiar with. Saying "we cannot arrest or incarcerate our way out of the drug problem," the office is instead looking to emphasize treatment and prevention instead of prison for low-level, non-violent drug offenders. To that end, President Obama has requested an additional $1.5 billion in funding for drug treatment and prevention programs in his 2014 budget. The White House says the focus is on making drug policy a public health issue more than a criminal justice issue.
Matt Feehery, CEO of the Prevention and Recovery Center at Memorial Hermann, welcomes the new drug policy. "Treatment and education for non-violent drug offenders is actually a very helpful thing, and it's less costly than incarceration," he tells KTRH. In fact, Feehery says a similar policy is already in place here. "Houston now has a sobering center for people who are picked up for public intoxication." Based on his experience in dealing with drug and alcohol abusers, Feehery claims that incarceration is not only more expensive than treatment, but less efficient. "Rather than criminalize them and spend the money it takes to book them at the jail, they're now putting (the offenders) into a situation where they can be counseled, evaluated, and given guidance," he says.
While some may question the policy of lessening criminal penalties for illicit drug use (and the cost of spending billions more on treatment programs), Feehery says it is not a lawless policy. "This isn't about giving people a license to behave any way they want, people have to accept personal responsibility for what they do," he explains. "But I think what the (policy) is trying to do, is take (drug use) out of the arena of criminal justice solely, and put it more in the arena of getting people the help they can use."
Check out the full 2013 White House Drug Control Policy.