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Decriminalization – Let’s Talk About It (Part Three)

What Affect Would Decriminalization Have on Crime Rates?

So far we’ve discussed the radical drug decriminalization policies that Portugal adopted 16 years ago, and how they have affected drug use throughout that country. But a major factor in the war on drugs that has yet to be touched on, is the issue of crime. Drugs and crime go hand in hand. At least, in a system where drugs are illegal and their production, sale and usage are against the law. But in what ways would decriminalization change that, and would the overall crime rate drop, or skyrocket?

In Portugal, the crime rate has decreased since drugs were decriminalized. Prison populations have decreased, and the court system is no longer as backed up as it used to be. All three of these are major concerns for the U.S., and in particular for Michigan.

Michigan’s prison population has exploded in recent years, and between food and medical care alone, the prison population costs Michigan taxpayers a phenomenal amount of money. Currently, it costs the state of Michigan $5 million per day, or $2 billion annually, to operate the prison system for our state. Current prison population estimates place the inmate count at 50,200 and rising.

So what can be done about it? Thus far, lawmakers have yet to come up with a solution that works, or even agree amongst themselves on viable options that they’re willing to try. So could decriminalization be the answer? Or are there better alternatives available?

According to the Citizens Alliance for Prisons and Public Spending, Michigan could reduce their prison population by as many as 10,000 in the near future. Suggestions include adjusting sentencing guidelines, doing away with the mandatory two year sentence for firearms possession, and placing more emphasis on therapeutic courts and community corrections programs.

And it’s that last one – the “therapeutic courts and community corrections programs” that is closest in purpose and outlook to the “harm reduction” approach that Portugal has found such success with. Placing the focus on providing assistance to those who are struggling with addiction. Providing help to those whose substance abuse problems exacerbate their poverty levels, and promote poor judgement. Working to break the cycle, instead of breaking the person trapped in the cycle.

But we already knew that. Michigan already has several sobriety courts, and the people graduating from those programs experience life-altering results. While the program does require intensive accountability, it also provides counseling and assistance. Help getting clean, finding a job, getting back on your feet. And the recidivism rates are substantially lower than with standardized incarceration.

The facts don’t lie. People respond more favorably to help, than to incarceration. That’s no surprise. But does that translate into a future of drug decriminalization for Michigan, and for the U.S. as a whole? We’ll talk about that next time.

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