When Colorado legislators reformed the state’s drug laws in 2013, the plan was to get non-violent, non-dealing drug users into treatment rather than sending them to jail. What actually happened was quite different.
Colorado’s prison population has quadrupled over the past two decades, and the drug law changes of 2013 have only seemed to make the situation worse. A full 75 percent of those who went to jail on felony drug convictions since the laws were changed were simple possession cases, with no violent actions and no drug dealing behavior detected.
Drug-Related Offenses Overcrowding Prisons
Colorado’s prisons are becoming overcrowded, and conditions are deteriorating. Some prisons that had been shut down are being reopened to handle the increases in those being incarcerated. The lawmakers’ plan has not worked out in the way they intended.
“Despite reform efforts, the war on drugs continues to play an outsized role in fueling Colorado’s prison population and, in turn, its prison budget,” Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition Executive Director Christie Donner said in a statement. “No one thinks the status quo is stemming the flow of either illegal drugs or drug addiction, and yet it not only persists but is getting worse, particularly for women.”
The problem with incarcerating people for drug offenses is that they do not get the chance to enter treatment and make life changes that can keep them from becoming repeat offenders. Prison is not going to change the circumstances that led someone to abuse drugs but is only going to make them more hardened to criminal activity in many cases.
Treatment Program Funding Can Ease Prison Overcrowding
Instead of spending the $30,374 a year it takes to incarcerate someone in Colorado, advocacy groups like the CCJRC, the Harm Reduction Action Center, and the Drug Policy Alliance suggest the state invest in treatment programs that will help offenders overcome their addictions and break the cycle that led them to use drugs in the first place.
“Many taxpayers are tired of paying exorbitant costs for policies that don’t work, like the war on drugs,” Donner said. “Colorado does not need more prisons. It needs a more sensible drug policy that treats drug use as a public health issue instead of a criminal justice issue.”
Some lawmakers are inclined to agree that treatment programs should be more of a priority for Colorado courts than incarceration.
“The 2013 drug sentencing reform legislation was well-intentioned, but it clearly has not had that effect,” House Judiciary Committee Chair Pete Lee said in a statement. “The Legislature should revisit the state’s drug sentencing structure, come up with some new ideas for reaching that original goal, and redouble efforts to steer people struggling with addiction into treatment rather than prisons.”
Recovery Village at Palmer Lake is a Colorado drug rehab facility that believes treatment will help people overcome their addictions and become productive members of society. If you or any of your loved ones struggle with addiction, do not wait for the criminal justice system to get involved. Contact us today!