Of the 2.3 million inmates crowding our nations prisons and jails, 1.5 million meet the DSM-IV medical criteria for substance abuse or addiction, and another 458,000, while not meeting the strict DSM-IV criteria, had histories of substance abuse; were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of their crime; committed their offense to get money to buy drugs; were incarcerated for an alcohol or drug law violation; or shared some combination of these characteristics, according to Behind Bars II: Substance Abuse and America’s Prison Population. Combined these two groups constitute 85% of the U.S. prison population. The new 144-page report released today by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University also reveals that alcohol and other drugs are significant factors in all crime. In 2006, alcohol and other drugs were involved in these inmate offenses: 78% of violent crimes 83% of property crimes 77% of public order, immigration or weapon offenses; and probation/parole violations
Addiction has a very strong stranglehold on so many of us. I was addicted to nicotine for almost thirty years of my life. My wife who five years ago had half a lung removed because of cancer continues to smoke today. She simply can’t not smoke. She like so many others has convinced herself that smoking and cancer are just not related. It seems the more I object to her smoking the more she smokes.
I was not too surprised to see that over 80% of the people incarcerated in the U.S. have a serious addition. Some are there because they stole in order to support it. Some are there because they did stupid things while under the influence of their favorite narcotic. What makes people become addicts? Part of it is I’m sure the futility they see in their lives. They simply don’t have any hope. They live in a world that is so out of kilter that they want to escape it and drugs allow them to do just that for at least a short period of time.
Some, like myself, became addicted because of social/peer pressure. Cigarettes were the rebellion tool of choice for my generation. That and the fact that my father was a heavy smoker pushed me into that drug.
Of course an answer to our ever rising incarceration of addicted U.S. citizens must be a multifaceted approach. There is not silver bullet as so often prescribed by so many of my conservative friends. The answer simply can’t be “lock them up and throw away the key”…
How do we give some semblance of hope to those who currently have none? How do we keep people from destroying their lives for a temporary relief? I don’t pretend to have any answers to these questions but some how some one more knowledgable than me needs to seriously help us address it.