Either Way We Pay | Letters | Chicago Reader

Either Way We Pay 

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We are writing to thank you for running the insightful and well-researched cover story "How to Win the War on Drugs," by Jeffrey Felshman, in your April 1 issue.

Statistics and stories like the ones in this article make it obvious that the war we need to fight is for saving people's lives. From 1970 to 2001 the Illinois prison population increased by more than 500 percent; nonviolent drug offenses account for 40 percent of those entering prison annually. Over half (54.6 percent) of those who get released from prison are rearrested within three years. The state corrections budget now accounts for one out of every $20 of the Illinois General Revenue Fund (GRF), absorbing dollars that might better be invested in preventive human service and education programs.

Illinois is locking up nonviolent offenders at an average annual per capita cost of $20,868, when what these individuals need is treatment that can cost a tenth of that amount. Studies in other states show that, if treated, 70 percent of drug offenders stay out of prison for good, compared to 30 percent without treatment. In terms of public safety, we are increasing threats to our communities by incarcerating nonviolent offenders in "universities of crime" (i.e. prisons), where they learn how to be better criminals. The result: more crime, more drug abuse, and more lives broken beyond repair.

Illinois has taken action to address the escalating problems associated with the war on drugs by launching the Sheridan National Model Drug Prison and Reentry Program. Just over a year ago Governor Blagojevich, supported by the Illinois General Assembly, reopened the Sheridan Correctional Center to provide intensive substance-abuse treatment services for inmates, as well as advanced case management and transitional education, employment and other services after release. Marking its first anniversary this January, the governor announced promising results from early research on the Sheridan model's effectiveness.

Rehabilitation programs like the one at Sheridan are not a panacea. And public safety and victims' rights must be upheld at all costs. However, the early success of Sheridan is encouraging. Rehabilitation, particularly for nonviolent drug offenders, may lead us to, at the very least, a stalemate in the war on drugs.

Paula Wolff

Senior executive

Angela Rudolph

Program Director

Justice/Violence Initiative

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