“We need to know what may be behind the criminal behavior to know what the best treatment is,” he said. “A person who commits crimes when drunk but not when sober is likely suffering from an alcohol problem. Treating the alcohol problem may diminish the criminal behavior.”On the other hand, if we want more criminals, sure, throw more minor offenders in with hardened criminals so they can learn how to do it worser.
Decreasing prison populations needs to be more of a priority, Dvoskin said. “This can be done by paying more attention to those with the highest risk of violent behavior rather than focusing on lesser crimes, such as minor drug offenses.”
Finally, bringing work back into prisons can benefit prisoners by teaching them job skills and filling unmet job needs. With the increase in the criminal population and lack of increase in prison staff, “there is not enough supervision to allow prisoners to work and build skills,” Dvoskin said. “This makes it very hard to re-enter into the civilian world and increases the likelihood of going back to prison.”
With 7 million American adults in prison and almost 50 percent of them African-American males, many children are growing up without fathers and are at risk for continuing the vicious cycle of criminal behavior, Dvoskin said. “If we don’t make the changes now, we will see these numbers go up.”
Five years later, the number of deaths from street drug overdoses dropped from around 400 to 290 annually, and the number of new HIV cases caused by using dirty needles to inject heroin, cocaine and other illegal substances plummeted from nearly 1,400 in 2000 to about 400 in 2006, according to a report released recently by the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C, libertarian think tank.Of course, if we did that in the U.S., we’d probably have to close quite a few prisons.
“Now instead of being put into prison, addicts are going to treatment centers and they’re learning how to control their drug usage or getting off drugs entirely,” report author Glenn Greenwald, a former New York State constitutional litigator, said during a press briefing at Cato last week.
Under the Portuguese plan, penalties for people caught dealing and trafficking drugs are unchanged; dealers are still jailed and subjected to fines depending on the crime. But people caught using or possessing small amounts—defined as the amount needed for 10 days of personal use—are brought before what’s known as a “Dissuasion Commission,” an administrative body created by the 2001 law.