A Potential Alternative to Defunding the Police

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Vehicle. – Courtesy photo / Jason Lawrence (CC BY 2.0)

By Cori Buck

As states struggle to combat drug addiction and the fallout that comes with it, solutions are being proposed to make the problem easier to handle. One thing that is being considered is defunding the police to channel money into social services. This money could then be utilized to establish effective health and human services that could prevent substance abuse and the crime that comes along with it.

Though the recent movement to defund the police has garnered a lot of attention, many communities around the country are apprehensive about making significant changes to their public safety infrastructure. Furthermore, a recent report from Rasmussen illustrates that support for police defunding is dwindling.

Currently, only 23% of people surveyed are in favor of defunding the police to put more money into social services, this is down from 27%. The main reason behind this is the fear of violent crime rising in areas where police are being defunded. This may be a justifiable concern, and so it appears that there is a potential alternative to defunding the police.

Programs and prison systems that are responsible for drug crimes are overpopulated. Many of them are getting punished when they should be receiving support. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, around 65% of prisoners meet the criteria for substance abuse disorder, and only 5% of them receive treatment. These individuals who are not receiving treatment are more likely to return to prisons. This is because jails and prisons do not rehabilitate, so it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.

It has been suggested that modifying the laws that govern drug possession could create an environment where individuals receive support instead of being punished. This change in policy could potentially save the criminal justice system a tremendous amount of money. According to a research article, “Lifetime Benefits and Costs of Diverting Substance-Abusing Offenders From State Prison,” if 10 percent of drug-addicted offenders received drug rehabilitation instead of jail time, the criminal justice system would save $4.8 billion. This number increases with the percentage of people diverted away from our nation’s expensive prison system.

One of the main goals of defunding the police is to put more funding into health and human services. Doing so would provide support to many who need it and potentially prevent encounters with police. Unfortunately, it would be hard for these individuals to receive help unless the laws change that govern illicit substance use and possession.

Decriminalization of drug possession and a support-based approach to substance abuse could be the real solution to the funding issues seen throughout many communities. Laws governing substance abuse possession do not just affect the individual; there is a definitive impact felt on the community. Criminal charges for drugs can inhibit an individual’s career opportunities and negatively affect other aspects of their lives. They also put a strain on the community in the form of financial burden from housing “criminals” who really need help.

If the criminal justice system was able to save billions of dollars by keeping people out of jail, they could make sustainable change. Not only would more people be receiving help, but the money saved could be invested in the community. Health and human services could receive the proper funding they need without sacrificing public safety.

It is essential to realize that the decriminalization of drugs would not make them legal by any means. This proposed initiative would merely enable individuals with substance abuse issues to receive support services instead of immediately being placed in our country’s cyclical justice system. It would not benefit those trafficking the drugs and bringing them into the community, nor would it allow violent offenders off the hook simply because their cases involved drugs.

Diverting even a small percentage of individuals away from prison could potentially free up the funding necessary to make a definite impact on public safety. Even though this may be a more palatable approach to defunding the police, something still needs to be done to address the massive problem of police brutality and discrimination. Perhaps changing the laws that motivate police behavior may be a good starting point and has the potential to achieve many of the same goals as the defunding initiative.

Cori Buck is a healthcare professional and an expert in substance abuse and addiction recovery. She uses her years of experience to provide insight into our nation’s drug epidemic and other issues surrounding medical care in our society. She is a regular contributor to the health website Addicted.org.

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