An article recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine, “Medicine and the Epidemic of Incarceration in the United States,” highlights the unprecedented expansion of the criminal justice system of the past four decades attributing much of the increase in the prisoner census to the “War on Drugs” and “our country’s failure to treat addiction and mental illness as medical conditions.”
The article first points out that the
incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any other country. In fact, with only 5% of the world’s population, the United States houses 25% of the world’s prisoners. The country is clearly heading in the wrong direction on this issue when a middle aged black man is more likely to have spent time in prison, than to have graduated college. Over the past 40 years, the number of people in U.S. prisons has increased by more than 600%. This is despite the fact that the U.S. population has increased by only 50%. U.S.
From a public health perspective the authors of this article conclude that addressing the needs of this vulnerable population is “not only an ethical imperative, but also of crucial importance from both a fiscal and a public health perspective.” The article effectively presents the view that as alternatives to incarceration, addiction and mental health treatment programs are more humane and cost-effective and ultimately better address the underlying problems.
The article certainly lends support for
’s 2009 drug law reform that included Judicial Diversion and can be used to advocate for a more robust use of this alternative. “Locking up millions of people for drug-related crimes has failed as a public-safety strategy and has harmed public safety in the communities to which these (formerly incarcerated) men and women return.” The article calls upon the medical community to become advocates for alternatives to imprisonment and drug-policy reform. They would certainly be a welcome ally in the fight for drug law reform implementation. New York