That so-called Third Way

August 21, 2013
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Strong article in the Atlantic by Jeff Deeney: To Stay Out of Jail, Must Nonviolent Offenders Submit to Medical Diagnoses?

The following passage, I think, really points out the problem that we’ve been railing about with the so-called “third way” that’s been heavily promoted by ONDCP and S.A.M.

Criminal justice policy reformers say that when courts flood the drug treatment centers with the kinds of drug offenders who more often get arrested, the outcome is no longer a system for treating drug addicts who want help with their drug problems. Instead, the treatment system becomes an extensive community-based surveillance network whose primary purpose is to monitor the behavior of people who are primarily black and poor. In fact, as some sociologists have argued, this changes the definition of what a drug problem is and who requires treatment. This suits perfectly the needs of a justice system that refuses to decriminalize drugs, but now has to put offenders somewhere other than jail.

Exactly. And the use of treatment as an arm of the criminal justice system may be good for treatment’s financial bottom line, but it’s not good for those who need treatment. And as the article goes on to demonstrate, the system is still heavily skewed in terms of class and race.

Another question is what happens with those who don’t need treatment. In the article ONDCP spokesperson Rafael LeMaitre attempts to reassure us:

Lemaitre, though, stands by the justice system’s referral policies for those with disorders, saying people don’t get sent to drug programs if they don’t have real drug problems.

Oh, really? I find that very hard to believe, particularly when treatment programs are getting paid for accepting people, and there’s a strong incentive to admit to having a drug problem in order to stay out of jail. After all, the one group people like LeMaitre never will discuss is those nonviolent low-level drug offenders with no drug problem. Because then he’d have to answer what this touted “third-way” does for them.

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Pete Guither is the editor of drugwarrant.com

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