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.”

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“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?

El crimen social que ha causado la prohibición de las llamadas drogas ,y su sistemática criminalización en el imaginario de las masas , es mucho más grande que el que en su momento , en el pasado hiciera el régimen que sustento la esclavitud hacia la raza negra africana , la cual duro siglos como forma de concebir la civilización “cristiano-católica” , lo que sin lugar a dudas nos muestra el lado criminal social de estas creencias , y nos permite asegurar que en el presente es esta criminal organización religiosa y mística la que incide como la mayor responsable del actual imaginario sobre la idea que se tiene de “drogas” , es decir es la “herejía contemporánea” por el cual las masas cautivas y educadas bajo la sombra del cristianismo creen en lo que esta “moral” les dice y que se recalca en las manipulaciones que el cine y la televisión al servicio de la prohibición y de la criminalización hacen para que las masas crean en la necesidad de la “guerra a las drogas”, el engaño cultural es tan grande como cuando se les dijo por siglos a las masas que la “tierra era plana” y que fuera de las fronteras que el imaginario cristiano-católico les enseñaba había un infinito numero de monstruos y abismos , hoy la prohibición y su campaña antinarcóticos , levanta un sinnúmero de mentiras mostradas como verdades y empacadas en seriados de televisión y cine se les da a las masas , además de la educación “oficial” los y las personas quedan totalmente convencidas de la “noble causa prohibicionista” , el juego del criminal régimen prohibicionista es pues el poder de un imperio por sustentar un macabro imaginario que indudablemente ha llevado a la especie humana a ser un cruel especie cuya brutalidad y represión no tiene límites de bestialidad

The social crime that has led to the banning of so-called drugs, and their systematic criminalization in the imagination of the masses, is much larger than that at the time, in the past did the regime support slavery to African blacks , which lasted centuries as a way of thinking about "Catholic Christian" civilization, which undoubtedly shows the criminal side of these social beliefs, and allows us to ensure that this is the religious and mystical criminal organization that incident as most responsible for the current imaginary about the idea we have of "drugs", ie it is the "contemporary heresy" by which the captive and brought up under the shadow of Christianity masses believe in what this "moral" says and the emphasis in the manipulations that cinema and television in the service of the prohibition and criminalization to make the masses believe in the necessity of the "war on drugs", the cultural deception is so great as when they are said for centuries the masses that the "earth is flat" and outside the borders that the Christian-Catholic imagery had taught them an infinite number of monsters and abysses, now the ban and counternarcotics campaign, raises a number of lies shown as truths and packed in film and television serials are given to the masses, in addition to the "official" education and the people are fully convinced of the "noble prohibitionist cause", the game of criminal prohibition regime is for the power of sustain an empire macabre imagery that has undoubtedly led the human race to be a cruel species whose brutality and repression knows no bounds of bestiality

Wow what a fantastic article. You know immediate change has to take place when a former Police Commander is addressing the issue and demanding reform. Individuals that are battling with these substances should not be locked up. In no way is that helping them or the situation our nations' face. What we need is harm reduction. We need to rally together in order to begin treating these users as patients who need immediate and effective help.

The United States needs significant reforms in its drug policy. I appreciate this police chief's support for a more 'informed' and holistic approach to drugs. However, I would have one question for the police chief: In the event that a drug offender fails to abstain from drug use during treatment, what happens? Is he/ she sent to jail? Studies show that beating addiction is a long road, and that threatening addicts with jail time is a poor external motivator to not use drugs.
I'm also wondering if the police chief is familiar with Portugal's approach to Drug policy? They decriminalized all drugs in 2001. In Portugal, drug possession has been an 'administrative' offense instead of a criminal offense for over 13 years now. Instead of being sent to jail for drug use, users are connected with treatment agencies and social workers. They are encouraged to take treatment seriously and are provided with resources but aren't forced to go, or thrown in jail if they relapse. The results? the incarcerated population has decreased by 65% compared to prior to 2001 levels, there has been no measurable increase in drug-related crimes, and there has been no expansion of the black market. Throwing people in prison for using drugs does not seem to be working for more reasons than I can convey here. Maybe the US has some things to learn from Portugal?

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