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My Turn: Prison doesn’t offer addicts treatment they need

Our state’s drug epidemic stretches beyond our communities and into our prisons. The state prison is failing miserably to combat its worst drug use in history with a slashed budget (minus $15 million) that has little or no allowance for drug treatment.

Simply locking up drug addicts does not arrest their disease, hence the 80 percent recidivism rate of drug- and alcohol-related violations. Yet we continue to lock them up and release them into the same environment with no attempt at treatment. This is the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.

Most drug addicts want, request and are denied treatment by the courts and/or the prison.

Texas is the only state that offers fewer dollars per capita than New Hampshire for drug treatment. We house our nonviolent offenders behind the prison wall with violent offenders at a cost of $35,000 a year compared to transitional housing at $16,000 per year. Our nonviolent offenders are paying the social costs of being housed with violent offenders, ultimately passing those costs on to our communities upon release. The $19,000 per year savings in housing costs per inmate could go a long way to funding drug treatment.

If we want to see a change in our drug problem, we must first invest in our drug offenders; after all, if nothing changes then nothing changes.

If we could change our drug offenders’ prison experience into a productive time of reflection and self-improvement, I believe we would see a tremendous change in our state’s recidivism rate, ultimately reducing the prison’s population and costs.

Sweden has increased its drug treatment for the last 10 years and has subsequently seen a drop in prison population for those years. This year they closed four of their prisons.

It seems that it would be both morally and fiscally responsible to bridge the gap between prison and society for nonviolent drug offenders with a form of transitional/treatment-based housing. It may prove to be the single greatest tool to slow the revolving door called recidivism.

(George Iskandar is an inmate at the New Hampshire State Prison in Concord.)

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