We Can’t Arrest Our Way Out of the Drug Problem

You can’t solve a public health crisis by locking people up. 

Jim Pugel knows this. After more than 30 years with the Seattle Police Department, he’s seen first-hand that sending people to prison for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses doesn’t work.

The incarceration rate for drug crimes in the United States expanded tenfold since 1980. Half of all people in federal prison are there on drug charges; most are not high-level actors in the drug trade and have no prior record for a violent offense. 

Arresting people for low-level drug use only ensures that once a person is released he or she is saddled with a criminal record that makes it harder to find employment, housing, or business and student loans. Essentially, they are stripped of the building blocks for leading a self-sufficient life.

This, along with legal challenges to racially disproportionate arrest rates, is why Pugel and a consortium of community groups started a program known as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD, which offers treatment instead of jail time to drug users at the point of arrest.

Encouraging police officers to change their understanding of their role from enforcer to public servant, working for all members of the community, was tough, Pugel says, but essential. 

“As police commanders and as policy makers, we have to make clear that we have to support public health, or else public safety is going to be impossible.”



“As police commanders and as policy makers, we have to make clear that we have to support public health, or else public safety is going to be impossible.” From this i do believe with the ongoing police reforms in Kenya this should be a key area of concern especially in saving the key population group. Thanks for the article, there is much to learn from this.

In enforcing a set of policies, it is distressingly easy to lose track of the goal. The goal of the policies associated with "The Drug War" was public protection - but what developed from these policies was exactly the reverse. We need to return to our goal of protecting the public, and develop policies to meet it.

Low-Level arrests, say's it all. The US Gov. IS the DRUG CARTEL, Go after them, imprison them!

As a public health professional, I totally agree with former Police Commander. Harm reduction is the only remedy to help people that are struggling with these substances. Harm Reduction means using a public heath approach, treating misusers of substances as patients who need help. Till then

Lancaster, PA has been implementing an alternative Drug Court program to deal with this very issue for the past 10 years -- spearheaded by Lancaster County Court Judge David Ashworth. In addition, Judge Ashworth has been teaching a college-level community-based learning seminar called "Problem-Solving Courts" that has college students work with drug court participants.

Trenfield's comment concerning "The Drug War", and policy makers returning to their original goal of protecting the public, is very well taken. KIASWI, INC., is a non-profit of South Carolina, whose mission is to PREVENT PARENTS FROM REPEAT INCARCERA-TION, who may end up on drugs--if they aren't already--due to the stresses of being unable to find employment, pay child support, or access counseling. KIASWI needs philanthropic support to assist these families. Please advise concerning grant guidelines, those with which our mission complies?

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