Mandatory Rehab: Just Another Prison for Non-Violent Drug Offenders?

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A lot of politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, will happily sing the praises of using drug courts to force those facing criminal drug charges into mandatory drug rehabilitation programs instead of into prison. On the surface, rehab does seem like the kinder, more rational approach to working with non-violent drug offenders, but the truth is there isn’t much practical difference for those caught in the criminal justice system.

Like those forced to go to prison, offenders sent to rehab are pulled away from their families, jobs and social networks and incarcerated against their will for an offense (drug possession, etc). These individuals, whose “addiction” is likely to be to only the use of cannabis, are often people who do not wish to quit using cannabis. Many are forced to pay exorbitant rates for their stay at rehab.

According to government figures (which are from 2008 and not so fresh), roughly 1/5 of all rehab stays are because of marijuana dependence (and some of the nearly 20% who are dependent on alcohol and another drug are reporting marijuana as the other drug). Nearly half of these cases, an earlier study found, were people under 25. Although that seems alarming, all that those figures really mean is that a lot of American citizens (particularly young people) are being forced into drug treatment because of pending criminal charges.

Most of these rehab programs do not really work with the individuals to address the root cause(s) of their addiction(s), and most, including the expensive resort-like clinics the wealthy can afford, are ridiculously ineffective overall at stemming substance abuse issues. Addiction is a complex condition, one that varies highly from individual to individual. Many of those considered to be addicts or criminals are in reality self-medicating for undiagnosed mental health issues (which may very likely be the result of past abuse or trauma). When one factors in the number of people being forced to go (by their parents, the courts, their employer or a frustrated significant other) without any real intention of permanently ceasing the use of their substance of choice, the whole system seems like a tragic joke (that’s making a few people very, very rich).

Mandatory rehab is not an acceptable alternative to the imprisonment of non-violent drug offenders, because it still is the imprisonment of non-violent drug offenders. It is just another arm of the obese octopus monster of corporations and special interest groups that thrive because of the war on drugs. While rehabilitation services should definitely be available (and free) for those who are truly ready to voluntarily seek treatment for substance abuse issues, no one should be forced into an inpatient clinic, especially not for the simple possession of cannabis.

Instead of working to reform a completely broken system by pushing non-violent drug offenders into rehab programs in lieu of prison, lawmakers should be working to dismantle the legal framework of cannabis prohibition and the criminalization of addiction at state and federal levels.

For previous Ladybud Magazine coverage of rehab and the issues surrounding it, click here.

Photo Credit: Pixabay