A blog post by John Shirley, posted in full because he doesn’t use permalinks:

A recent AP article was headlined “7 Million Americans in arms of the Law”. Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project was quoted: “Misguided policies that create harsher sentences for nonviolent drug offenses are disproportionately responsible for the increasing rates…”

Amphetamine addiction is epidemic, crack addiction still festers, heroin addiction persists, alcoholism is always with us. Yet most drug addicts actually don’t want to be drug addicts. They’re stuck. Real rehab, something that works, is hard to come by. 12-Step groups help, but in the real world, hard-core addicts need longterm in-patient rehabilitation. Time clean is an essential treatment for drug addiction, and most addicts–especially amphetamine, heroin and crack addicts– need an extended period in a locked facility to get that clean time. There are a few programs like Moving Addicted Mothers Ahead, at the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, that help addicts for free–and M.A.M.A. is particularly valuable, since helping an addict mother break the cycle helps her children and grandchildren too. But there are too few such programs, with too few beds.

I recently called around for a friend who is an addict, looking for long-term in-patient rehabilitation. There are plenty of extravagantly priced programs. Five to eight thousand dollars for thirty days is typical for those who were “moderately” priced, and thirty days isn’t enough. For people without enough cash, or insurance, there is almost no recourse. And most drug addicts, of course, live in poverty. Yes, the poverty that puts serious rehab out of reach is often the result of their addiction–but pointing out that it’s “all their fault” isn’t going to help society with the costs of drug-related crime and homelessness.

Many homeless are just the poor, often hardworking poor, who fell through the cracks of a callous system–but many others are drug addicts, alcoholics, or both. Homeless addicts cost communities millions of dollars in court costs, jailing costs, emergency room costs, policing costs. When they’re offered help, it’s usually piece meal, outpatient, and not something the addict can count on. They know they need the in-patient time. They know that a locked facility is what is going to work for them. And they know it’s not available. There is a long waiting list for the few free rehab programs. Many addicts are unlikely to be organized enough to get on the waiting list and monitor their access to rehab facilities. But offer them a quick entry into long-term rehab and a great many of them will take it, and gratefully. If we do the spadework, we can make them that offer.

Ask city managers and supervisors why there isn’t more easy access to free rehabilitation, they’ll say there is no way to pay for it. It’s not in the budget. But not making rehab a budget priority is itself financial mismanagement. We can save money, in the long run, by investing in the creation of new and extensive state, county, and city operated free rehabilitation for our thousands of indigent drug addicts and alcoholics. We need these facilities and we need lots of them. We can uproot homelessness, for many people, before it entwines their lives; we can head habitual drug addicts off before they become habitual criminals. We can save society millions of dollars by offering free rehabilitation to the poor–to the people society’s neglect has made so vulnerable to the despair that fosters drug addiction.