Prop 36 – show us the money

A lot of people believe in evil. They believe that bad people do bad things because they’re bad. Anyone who says different is a pinko, liberal, commie, do-gooder.

Except when it comes to drugs. There is pretty wide acceptance that drug addiction makes people do things they ordinarily wouldn’t, like shoplifting, burglary, handbag snatching and so on. 

A hell of a lot of crime in Dublin is committed by people who are addicted to drugs. A survey by gardai in the 1990’s found that 43 per cent of people caught by gardai were drug users. Even worse, these 43 per cent were responsible for 63 per cent of detected crime.

So people on drugs are not doing themselves or their families any good; and a goodly number are involved in making life miserable for the rest of us.

So therefore, you would think, it would be in the best interest of us all if there were drug treatment facilities available to all our hard drug users. Furthermore, for those who have been caught committing crime and where it is clear that their drug-taking is at the root of the offending behaviour, it might make more sense to offer treatment than jail.

Amazingly (scandalously?) enough, about half of our heroin users are not receiving any treatment at all. The other half are on methadone, which means that they are still addicted, albeit to a drug which allows them to stabilise their lives.

In 2002 the were about 800 people in residential treatment. (This is according to a report issued in 2005 – why are the stats so out of date?). This is obviously not going to put much of a dent in Dublin’s ongoing heroin problem especially when the evidence is that many drug-users need a number of drug treatment programmes.

We actually do have a Drug Treatment Court which will work with offenders. I understand that the court, while successful, only deals with a small number of offenders. And meanwhile drug use remains a very big problem in Irish prisons.

The solution is obviously to provide more, way more, drug rehabilitation places. Why don’t we do it?

Money, of course is the problem. Happiness, after all, can’t be measured. Which brings us to Proposition 36, a law introduced in California in 2001.

‘Prop 36’ as it is affectionately known, offers offenders treatment instead of jail. Nothing new there. What’s new is that research on Prop 36 shows that for every dollar spent on the programme, the state saves $2.50. Simply, it’s cheaper to offer treatment than it is to keep someone in jail.

California’s prison population is an estimated 15,000 lower than it ‘should’ be with savings of over a billion dollars.

So never mind the damage that heroin use does to individuals, families and communities. That’s obviously not persuasive. Here we have the evidence in the language the Department of Finance understands.

The lesson is: stop building prisons and start building treatment centres. 

The number of heroin users we have never seems to drop. This is a terrible human waste. And now it doesn’t make financial sense either.