Examining Incarceration & Addiction on National Meth Awareness Day

I have to say this up front, I find it shocking that we have National Meth Awareness Day. I absolutely agree with the purpose: to educate the public about the effects of methamphetamine abuse on individuals, families and communities, but it’s crushing we’ve arrived at this point. My life and my work with Televerde have given me direct insight into the devastating effects of addiction, whether meth, cocaine, heroin, prescription drugs or even alcohol. I’ve seen a lot and I can tell you this: addiction is real, and we will never solve it through incarceration, especially incarceration without rehabilitation.

Of the more than 2.3 million people in U.S. prisons and jails, more than 65 percent meet medical criteria for substance abuse addiction. This same report found that alcohol and other drugs are significant factors in all crimes. So, when we incarcerate addicts, we create a revolving door back into prison. People come in as addicts, and without treatment, they leave as addicts. Without the tools to prevent relapse, they are destined to find themselves right back where they started, addicted to drugs and committing crimes to support their habit, ultimately sending them right back to prison. It’s an endless cycle that impacts generations. In fact, stats show that 1 in 10 children with a parent in prison will end up incarcerated by the age of eighteen. Ohio figured this out and is doing something about it. As drugs land more women in prison, the Ohio Reformatory for Women introduced Tapestry, an 18-month inpatient treatment program for women that focuses not only on keeping them clean and sober, but delving into the root causes of their addiction and, ultimately, changing their lives. It’s an excellent example of a solution built on wisdom, empathy and empowerment.

So why should we care? Well, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse within the National Institute of Health, the average cost of treatment for a drug addict is $4,700 compared to $24,000 per year to incarcerate them. As taxpayers, we’re continuing to fund a broken model that serves no one. But we can change it.

As a first step, let’s do away with the stigmas attached to addiction. Addicts aren’t bad people. They are sick people; and they can recover with treatment, empathy, support and personal commitment. How do I know? Because most of the women I work with every day are formerly or currently incarcerated at the Arizona Department of Corrections in Perryville and the Rockville Correctional Facility in Indiana (learn more about our work together here). And, those who came into prison as addicts were able to leave with the support and resources they needed to manage their addictions and maintain their sobriety.

My colleague Kerri Knapp has been instrumental in providing a life changing opportunity for the women at Perryville. She founded a class called The Way Out, which provides support and tools for women to treat their addictions. Efforts like this can make a world of difference in helping to solve the drug crisis and mass incarceration issue that plague our country. Kerri’s program is more than just helping people “kick a bad habit.” She’s changing the lives of the people around us, which is being felt deeply in our communities in a very positive way. Her story is incredibly inspiring. I hope you’ll invest the time to watch the video below.

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