Dollars & Sense: Rehabilitation Over Incarceration

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Numbers don’t lie, as the old adage goes. So let’s take a look at some pertinent ones:

  • 5 million people were arrested in 2013 for non-violent drug charges
  • Close to 25% of those incarcerated (in all types of institutions) were non-violent drug offenders
  • U.S. taxpayers spend approximately $17.5 billion a year incarcerating non-violent drug offenders (25% of the $70 billion incarceration bill the U.S. pays annually)

$17.5 billion spent on warehousing non-violent drug offenders- almost all of them drug addicts who would benefit from treatment and rehabilitation. That’s roughly $30-40,000 per inmate per year. With the average sentence length of a nonviolent drug conviction running 6 years, that’s $180,000. A drug addiction left untreated will result in continued drug use and arrests-which is why 63% of nonviolent drug offenders recidivate within 3 years. Recidivism costs the U.S. taxpayer more money re- incarcerating the same individual. The almost complete lack of any drug treatment available to inmates is a large reason for the astronomical recidivism rate.

Rehabilitation programs, which are the only realistic way to help and keep a drug addict from re-offending, cost drastically less than incarceration. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that, “Treatment can cut drug use in half, decrease criminal activity, and reduce arrests”.  Thirty day inpatient rehab programs can cost as little as $2,000, while outpatient programs are even lower cost (as little as $3,000 a year). Placing non-violent drug offenders in an inpatient or outpatient treatment program, combined with probation, is much cheaper to the taxpayer than incarceration. Economically, everyone benefits: less initial cost to the taxpayer, long term the offender is much less likely to re-offend, saving future incarceration costs, and the offender themselves can become a productive job-holding member of society.

Rehabilitating non-violent drug offenders is not just bleeding-heart, save the whales policy.  It makes hard numerical sense.  Completely objectively, would you rather spend $10,000 or $180,000?  I would much rather spend $10,000.  When a non-violent, drug addict receives proper treatment and probation, that individual is much more likely to:

  • stop using drugs and spending thousands on their addiction
  • less likely to reoffend
  • get a job and pay taxes

An untreated drug addict will just continue to reoffend, costing the taxpayer more money indefinitely.

 

Sources: drugabuse.gov, drugwarfacts.org, http://www.cepr.net

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