The title of Michael Turton’s excellent Aug. 21 front-page piece, Treatment Instead of Prison, about the Putnam County Treatment Court, neatly sums up one of the fatal flaws of the so-called “War on Drugs” over the last 40 years. During that time, it’s been prison instead of treatment, resulting in the system of mass incarceration which has resulted in a completely deformed criminal justice system and an untenable, unaffordable prison/industrial complex.
In 1972 there were 200,000 people in our prisons; now, of the more than 2 million men and women in lockup, 140,000 of them are serving life sentences. And the politics of what Michelle Alexander has famously called “The New Jim Crow” has meant that about 60 percent of those incarcerated are people of color, and about half are African Americans.
Mike Turton says that Putnam County’s “Drug Court” could also be called “the court of second chances.” With many other countries, less backward in their thinking and less burdened with the deep and as yet ineradicable structural racism that afflicts the U.S., having rejected the “war on drugs” model in favor of a public health approach, maybe the second chance it represents is for our own criminal justice and penal systems, which have become a national shame.