Problems like mental illness, substance use disorders, and homelessness are more appropriately addressed outside of the criminal justice system altogether. Services like drug treatment and affordable housing cost less and can have a better record of success. It’s time we got serious about pulling our money out of incarceration and putting it into systems that foster healthy communities.

With almost 50 percent of prisoners in federal prison for a drug offense and multitudes of severely mentally ill people imprisoned, it is time for the criminal justice system to begin exploring alternatives to incarceration.

Treatment vs. Punishment

There is a disproportionate number of people with mental illnesses and substance use disorders in our prisons and jails. The rate of serious mental illness among incarcerated people is two to six times higher than it is in the general population. Over 70 percent of people in jails with a serious mental illness also have a substance use disorder. Most of these people are in jail for nonviolent, low-level offenses, and they do not receive care.

Health Based Solutions

The criminal justice system does not provide appropriate support and treatment to people with substance use disorders and mental illness. These people should be served by other social sectors, such as health and housing. Services like drug treatment and affordable housing cost less and can have a better record of success. Public safety could be better achieved by spending less money incarcerating people and spending more money on health care, education, housing, and jobs programs.

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