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Citizens Need Treatment, Not Incarceration

Our prison system is evidence of America’s addiction crisis.

October 1, 2009
Commentary contributed by Netra Halperin · Kīhei

Add to this the fact that 60 percent of incarcerated men and 80 percent of women are non-violent drug offenders. Instead of seeing the drug addiction pandemic for what it is— a public health crisis—we are neglecting this disease until it leads to crime, which we then punish. This only compounds the vicious circle of drugs and crime.

Putting a drug addict in prison and admonishing him or her to “take responsibility for your crime” is meaningless without comprehensive addictions treatment, including life skills and career training. The State of Hawai‘i is in a budget crisis; state agricultural inspectors are being laid off and libraries are being closed. If we stopped wasting money keeping people locked up for years at a time, and instead dealt with the causes of crime, we could begin to break this expensive downward spiral. If fear of, and consequent subjection to punishment actually prevented crime, we wouldn’t have the increasingly backlogged court dockets and over-crowded prisons.

The only people bene?ting from the “war on drugs” are prison owners. About half of the state’s prison population is being held in out-of-state facilities, costing $50 million a year! Women from Otter Creek prison in Kentucky have recently been returned to Hawaii due to allegations of being raped while in prison, adding to their trauma, and likelihood of future criminal activity.

Other troubling statistics: almost 40 percent of Hawai‘i’s inmates are Native Hawaiian (who represent less than 10 percent of the general population) and 60 percent of women offenders in Hawai‘i have at least one child. In 2000, even Hawai‘i’s Department of Public Safety admitted that 99 percent of incarcerated women could be better served in community-based programs.



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