Is it time to revisit the way drug offenders are sentenced?

It's no secret that the prisons in this country are bursting at the seams. The United States has more people in prison than any other country in the world, including China, Russia, Brazil or India. Many of those people sitting behind bars are there due to drug crimes related to their addictions. It's probably not surprising that many of them quickly relapse upon their release.

What may shock you, however, is the fact that almost half of the drug offenders who are released from Illinois prisons end up back behind bars withing just three years.

What that tells you is that incarceration doesn't magically cure addiction or stop a social problem. All the "get tough" legal measures that seek to discourage drug use by making an example of anybody who is caught don't actually do anything except create a bigger burden on the prison system and the taxpayers.

At a joint hearing of the Senate Criminal Law and Public Safety Committees, a representative from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) made the case for reducing criminal penalties for drug offenses, including the idea that simple possession of drugs should be no more than a misdemeanor offense without significant jail time instead of a felony.

Prosecutors, in return, stated that lowering the penalties for drug offenses won't give defendants the proper "incentive" to seek treatment. That thinking seems flawed, however, given that many drug offenders don't have the resources to get treatment in the first place -- and they certainly aren't likely to get it behind bars. Putting them in prison is essentially akin to "warehousing" them for a few years, rather than getting to the root of their problems.

Sentencing reforms may someday happen, but that's still a long way into the future. In the meantime, if you're charged with a drug offense in Illinois, get help. A defense attorney can protect your rights and your future.

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