Yankee pitcher Joba Chamberlain's mom, Jacqueline Standley, was arrested at her apartment this weekend for selling a small amount of methamphetamine to an undercover cop back in February. It breaks my heart to think of Joba Chamberlain's mom spending time behind bars for her drug problems. She is facing one to 50 years behind bars for one gram of meth. She has been open about her substance abuse and depression and she obviously needs treatment and help, not a cage, to deal with her addiction.
Former Yankee great Daryl Strawberry has also been in the news recently talking about his substance abuse struggles. In a recent interview in the New York Times Magazine pegged to his book, Straw: Finding My Way, Strawberry opens up about his addiction. "I wasn't a criminal. That's what saddened me. Not being a criminal and going to jail because you have a substance abuse problem is really sad. It's sad that the system doesn't see that as the real issue."
America likes to promote itself as the "home of the free" but, unfortunately, we have the embarrassing honor of being known as the incarceration nation. The U.S. has less than five percent of the world's population but almost 25 percent of the world's prison population, incarcerating more of its citizens per capita than any other country in the world. We lock up more people on drug charges than Western Europe locks up for everything and they have 100 million more people than we do. A government report released by the U.S. Justice Department found that 1 in 31 Americans was in prison or jail or on parole or probation last year. The way our country deals with drug abuse is the driving force to our incarceration problem.
Because "tough on crime" politicians push for mandatory minimums and long incarceration for people with drug problems, states from New York to California are facing multi billion-dollar budget deficits. Governors and mayors are being forced to cut spending on everything from education to heath care, and are even shutting down popular prevention programs. We need to start offering treatment instead of incarceration for people like Ms. Standley. States could save hundreds of millions of dollars by doing away with these wasteful laws that lock up nonviolent people with drug convictions at a hefty price tag of $40,000 per year. We can't afford these ineffective and inhumane laws anymore!
Substance abuse and the drug war touch almost every family in America, famous or not. Millions of people have a loved one behind bars on drug charges. Many millions more have struggled themselves or have a loved one who has dealt with addiction to illegal or legal drugs. By declaring a "war on drugs" we have declared a war on ourselves.
We have to learn how to live with drugs, because they aren't going anywhere. The drug war has been waged over the last 30 years. We spend $40 billion a year and despite the decades of war, incarceration rates and money spent, drugs are as plentiful as ever and easily accessible. We have to accept that drugs have been around for thousands of years and will be here for thousands more. We need to educate people about the possible harm from drug use, offer compassion and treatment to people like Ms. Standley and Mr. Strawberry who have problems and leave in peace the people who are causing harm to no one.
Tony Newman is the director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance.