California became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana use in November 2016. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (Proposition 64) was monumental in law enforcement. The passing of Proposition 64 meant thousands of people would avoid jail time each year for non-violent drug offenses. The premise behind the legislation was that it is better to seek out addiction treatment instead of jail time.
Previously, marijuana was the leading substance involved in arrests and convictions. As of 2020, 450,000 people are serving sentences for a nonviolent drug offense. Reducing this number could profoundly impact individuals, families, and communities at large, especially when their offenses stem from problems stemming from chronic substance abuse and poor mental health.
The Effects of Imprisonment on Mental Health
Substance abuse and drug-related offenses share a strong tie in America; experts predict that approximately 65 percent of the active prison population has some form of a substance use disorder. An additional 20 percent do not meet the diagnostic criteria for substance abuse disorder, but they were under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol at the time of their arrest.
Years of extensive research and population studies of incarcerated people show that substance abuse affects mental health, quality of life, and opportunities. Substance abuse arises from and leads to social and environmental struggles like loss of employment, relationship problems, and poverty.
Lack of substance abuse treatment in prison leads to a higher risk of overdose and relapse when someone completes their sentence; it also worsens dual diagnoses, that is, mental health disorders that exist alongside a substance use disorder. Clinical depression, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders are the most common dual diagnoses.
When people are in jail long enough, they adapt to the prison system. This process is known as prisonization, and eventually, find it harder to readjust to regular society. Unemployed, struggling to find work, and wrestling with addiction, they are more likely to reuse and re-offend. Being convicted again results in a harsher sentence, which only perpetuates the cycle of abuse and offense.
There Is a Difference Between Substance Use and Substance Distribution
An important distinction in nonviolent drug offense lies between possession and the intent to sell. Distributing drugs to others for profit may or may not have anything to do with a person’s own substance use. There are drug dealers who don’t even use drugs themselves. Instead, they actively perpetuate the cycle of addiction in their community by importing them and selling them to active users.
Drug diversion programs are not intended for people without a clinical substance use disorder who have a history of felonies, violations, or drug-related crimes. Unfortunately, even those who may have a SUD but are serving time for possession of a drug for sale do not qualify for Proposition 36 treatment as an alternative to jail time.
Addiction treatment instead of jail helps people get a second chance. By completing one mandatory 12-month substance abuse treatment program or two six-month programs, they can avoid a prison sentence, get the help they need and get back on track.
Seek Addiction Treatment Instead of Jail
Many people facing arrest while having a substance abuse disorder need education and resources rather than imprisonment. They may have reached a point in their addiction that they have resorted to nonviolent acts to survive; they may be arrested for public intoxication or possession because they’ve lost their homes and are now living on the street to support their addiction. Whatever the case, addiction treatment as an alternative to jail time can decrease the risk of future offenses.
Access to quality addiction treatment instead of jail also helps substance use disorders and mental health problems from worsening. Instead of facing the risk of accidental overdose, self-harm, or suicide after jail time, people can receive the medical support and psychological care they need to start building a productive, fulfilling life.
Although addiction treatment does not mean you’ll ever live symptom-free, it can teach you the techniques you need to manage them well. People with lifelong mental illnesses can still flourish and thrive with the right resources and environment. If you or someone you love could benefit from addiction treatment instead of jail, contact your local hospital or get in touch with us today.