Our nation has spent more than $1 trillion on the so-called “War on Drugs” since President Nixon coined the term in 1971, and yet the United States has illicit drug use rates among the highest in the world. The U.S. also has the largest criminal justice population in the world, with nearly 2.3 million people behind bars.
One positive trend in federal spending over the past several years is an increase in funds devoted to addiction prevention, early intervention and treatment, with a corresponding reduction in money devoted to enforcement and drug-related incarceration. This type of criminal justice reform should be continued in future years.
Along those same lines, we strongly support the expansion of drug court programs, or recovery court programs as we prefer to call them, and similar sentencing reform and corrections alternatives that are more rehabilitative than punitive and that have proven to reduce crime, save money, ensure compliance and restore families.
BIPOC communities have been disproportionately harmed by America’ drug policies and we believe legislative efforts such as the Second Chance Act—most recently reauthorized in 2018 as part of the First Step Act—can help those who were convicted of drug offenses get back on their feet through addiction treatment, re-entry programs and employment training. We also support further efforts to reform draconian mandatory sentencing laws and policies, and oppose efforts to impose new ones.
In addition, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation supports criminal justice reform efforts to restore the voting rights of recovering drug offenders and to provide them with more and better education, employment and sober housing options. We see high rates of recidivism and relapse, in part because those with criminal records have a hard time rejoining society due to restrictions on essential re-entry opportunities to establish a meaningful future.
We know, based on our everyday work, that recovery from alcohol and other drug addiction is possible and powerful. Our laws and culture ought to reflect the promise of redemption evident in the people whose renewed hope, healing and health illustrate the personal and societal value of recovery from addiction.