Why is it so hard to help drug-addicted criminals?

Here’s a column about a rejected proposal (Hamilton, Ontario) to house an addiction counselor in the police department to intervene at the time of arrest throughout the judicial process. The goal is to capitalize on the crisis of being arrested and charged with a crime as an opportunity for active linkage to help rather than a passive referral.

It was shot down because they wanted prevention programs. It’s an interesting idea that could be effective.

What’s more interesting is what this (and programs like drug courts) says about systemic ownership of the problem of addiction. Over the last decade or so the criminal justice system has been realizing that the drug problem is not a simple criminal matter and they they are not equipped to respond in an effective and humane manner. The response has been to incrementally develop therapeutic responses within the criminal justice system, many with decent results. However, it seems that the real issue is what system(s) should “own” the problem.

There’s a push right now to move ownership from the criminal justice system to the public health system (not necessarily the treatment system). If this movement was successful, I suspect that within a generation there would be renewed calls for ownership to be transferred back to the criminal justice system.

Right now I’m thinking that it doesn’t have to be and either/or decision. It seems that there could be shared ownership to some extent–maintaining some reduced measure of prohibition (I know that the work prohibition freaks people out, but we prohibit everything from speeding to murder. Pretty broad continuum of enforcement approaches, no?) and rebuilding access to a treatment system with continuous recovery management.

One thought on “Why is it so hard to help drug-addicted criminals?

  1. I work in the CJS system in the UK as a Senior Practitioner. I line manage a team of 12 criminal justice drugs workers and we currently have a case load of 150 clients with around 10-20 new clients a month. I find it hard to imagine working in a country where there is no engagement with drug users in police custody. This is a vital part of our work and we are contracted to cover custody from 8am till 10pm.I hope that the political will changes over there, as you are missing out on a key tool in harm and crime reduction.Scott – UK.

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