Maya Schenwar: Sentencing people to diversion programs still involves uprooting and confining them in an effort to make society ‘safer’
Have to admit this article poses an interesting question. One point of clarity I’d offer though, is that in my experience people of color are disproportionately NOT offered sentencing alternatives, including therapeutic courts, despite what the article implied by lumping alternatives with disproportional arrests and incarceration rates, as the article correctly indicated. I could be wrong about this, I have not seen official stats in sometime, but anecdotally from my experience in Washington state this appears to be the case, and is keeping with statistics cited by Mechelle Alexander noting the higher rates of referrals to federal courts for people of color, which to my knowledge, are less likely to offer sentencing alternatives.
On a similar critical note- the article makes no mention of people who enter therapeutic courts with differed say, property crimes, which occurs in some states (at least in Washington), suggesting the actions of some one who is committing a criminal act and eligible for treatment, a scenario distinct from the criticisms the article offers.
My criticism and personal discomfort aside, the author makes an valid point: for people who are arrested simply for possession, and have neither interest nor health or social imperative need for treatment, is mandated treatment really an ethical option? Furthermore, is the choice between a incarceration and a potentially felony record vs. mandated treatment really an ethical option?
I’m inclined to say no, yet I’ve met many addicts who would not have qualified as physically dependent, who did not want to quit, who entered a treatment program, and upon being reunited with their family and achieving some personal goals have exalted their thanks to the program and renounced their former preference to keep using. Again, anecdotal, but it does contrast with the scenario this article is portraying.
On a further complicating and rhetorical note- suppose the example of an adult who is otherwise law abiding and functional, but who has lost contact with their children because of their using behavior has alienated them, say by constantly attending events high, again technically functional perhaps, but at the very least annoying in the case of one meth user. If this person is arrested, is it ethically wrong this person be mandated a choice between treatment and jail? IMO, probably. Would treatment help them, and by proxy maybe help their children? IMO, probably. This is not just hypothetical I’ve worked with adults exactly like this, and I really could not tell you what the “right” (or, less wrong?) thing to do is, if we abandon the assumption that simply the act of possession or using of a controlled substance is a criminal offense.
So I don’t really know what is right, is the short answer. It’s a question, that seems to me to vary quite a bit from person to person, and I sure as hell don’t have a good answer. I agree mandating therapeutic courts or treatment seems short sighted, but it’s not as though the choice between a criminal record + jail or prison vs. treatment, is much of a choice for many to begin with. My takeaway, is that transitioning from high rates of incarceration to higher rates of therapeutic courts is a wise move, but it’s just a step in the right direction, not the end all be of all of correctional or drug policy reform.