The Michigan prescription drug and opiate abuse task force found that the surge in heroin use results from the growing opioid prescription drug epidemic. As this plague threatens to overwhelm the criminal justice system and fills hospitals’ emergency rooms, many people are asking what can be done.
The most recent research tells us that locking addicts up does not work. The more than 2 million Americans that are currently incarcerated resulted in 23% of our state’s prison systems operating at more than 100% of their capacity. Approximately 25% of those incarcerated were convicted of drug crimes. In total, 80% of those in our prisoners are addicted to either alcohol or other drugs. A study from 2011 found that 72.5% of people with substance use disorders who are incarcerated returned to prison within two years.
On the other hand, the research shows the drug treatment courts are the most effective sentence that can be imposed in order to reduce addiction-related recidivism. However, even drug treatment courts have recidivism rates of approximately 25% when an individual is addicted to opiates.
In part, the recidivism rate stems from the chaos that is an addict’s life. Basic things like food and housing are secondary to the need for heroin. Many end up on the street or living with other addicts. Inevitably, this lack of a stable housing environment contributes to police contact and ultimately arrest.
One of the simplest remedies, would be to create safe and sober housing for addicts. A study of safe and sober housing in Illinois showed that drug use was reduced by more than half and the incarceration rate was reduced by two thirds when compared to other approaches.
This same study shows that sober home living was also the most cost effective approach for taxpayers. Incarcerating people with substance use disorders costs the state of Illinois $23,812.00 annually. The lower rate of incarceration experience by sober housing participants saved the state roughly $119 000. In addition, by the end of the second year in a sober living, house participants earned roughly $550 more per month then the comparison group. Together, this meant a tax saving of an estimated $8,173.00 per safe house member per year.
Gov. Rick Snyder is considering a proposal that would bring together the Michigan Housing Development Authority, the Department of Community Health, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Corrections, a private investment corporation and the Michigan Association of Treatment Court Professionals (MATCP) to create a safe/sober living demonstration pilot project. (I’m on MATCP’s board of directors.)
The project would work like this: a community development corporation that works to support community stabilization would find financial partners to create three separate safe and sober living buildings in different locations within Michigan, totaling approximately 150 apartments. Each building would be privately owned. They would not be short-term residential treatment units, but rather long term safe housing where families could reside under one roof. The capital funds necessary to purchase these buildings would largely come from private sources. The units would be subsidized for those tenants who qualify under Section 8 housing assistance, but all participants would be required to pay a portion of their rent.
MATCP would work with the local courts for each of the three locations to develop and coordinate the on-site treatment and testing programs necessary to ensure that the participants are less likely to relapse. It would also design and supervise the research study that would be conducted simultaneously in order to determine if a stable and drug-free home will work in Michigan.
Michigan has a chance to develop a program that works while saving taxpayer money, all the while helping someone suffering from an addictive illness to reestablish their life. We need to start thinking about crime in new ways. There is a lot of talk about how we need to be tough on crime, but I’ve always thought it was far more important to be effective.
This story was first published in Deadline Detroit. Reprinted with permission.