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Proposition 57: Rehabilitating Teens VS Incarcerating Them

Proposition 57 | Paradigm Mailbu

What is Proposition 57?

On the ballot for this year’s election is Proposition 57 which would potentially change the way California responds to crimes committed by adults and youths. Proposition 57 would allow for more rehabilitation which in turn could reduce the number of people who are in prison. Proposition 57 would also require that youths have a hearing in juvenile court to determine whether they should be transferred to adult court, eliminating the ability of prosecutors to make that decision. (Please note that this article is not intended to convince a person to vote one way or the other. Instead, this article is meant to provide some of the benefits for youth who are required to undergo addiction treatment versus being incarcerated.)


Benefits of Teen Addiction Treatment

If teens are in prison for a non-violent crime, such as possession of substances, there might be benefits to giving them the opportunity to rehabilitate versus putting them in prison. In fact, jail time as a punishment for drug use comes with incredible costs. Not only does a teen’s first time in jail cost money, but roughly one half of drug offenders return to prison because of a technical violation, such as failing a drug test. However, if a teen were sent to addiction treatment instead, then the possibilities of less crime and healthier adolescents may exist. Sadly, of the 800,000 people in the criminal justice system who could use substance abuse treatment, only one third have participated in it.


There are some clear advantages for sending a teen to addiction treatment versus jail. These include:

  • Drug rehab costs less in the long-run versus jail
  • Drug rehab addresses the factors that might have contributed to committing the crime in the first place.
  • The costs of running a jail are far more expensive than those of running an addiction treatment center.
  • Drug rehab is essential for helping a teen create a healthy lifestyle again.
  • Drug rehab can point a teen in the right direction, whereas jail tends to keep them trapped in the same life situations.


Because of the benefits that come with sending an adolescent to drug rehab versus prison, more and more states are doing just that. According to JusticePolicy.org, Maryland reduced the costs of criminal offenders down from $20,000 to $4,000. Furthermore, the website indicates that California has also made the same change in the way they respond to offenders with a substance abuse history. Although California has endured some initial high costs, they recognize that by making this change they save substantially in the long-term.


Correlation Between Crime and Substance Use

It’s almost an obvious choice for state legislators to begin to require drug addiction treatment as a consequence for crime versus prison. However, it might take some time before all 50 states have made this standard practice. Yet, as more and more states learn toward rehabilitation versus incarceration there may be great benefits to experience. There is a strong correlation between crime and substance use. When teens and adults experience rehabilitation there may be a reduction in crime, among other benefits.


Of the 2.3 million men and women who are in the U.S. justice system, about half of them have a history of drug use or addiction. Another reason why drugs and crime seem to go hand in hand is the fact that many people who commit crimes tend to be under the influence at the time. Drugs and alcohol affect a person’s thinking, decision making process, and inhibition, which might lead deciding to do something one might not otherwise do. Furthermore, sending teens to rehabilitative treatment gives them an entirely difference experience – one of support versus punishment, one of caring versus consequence.


Resources Rehabilitation Offers

Teens who experience rehabilitation are given the following resources to face life’s challenges once done with treatment:

  • coping tools
  • relaxation tools
  • understanding of addiction
  • strategies to remain abstinent
  • opportunities to make sober friends
  • time with a new peer group
  • a new way of life that excludes drugs and alcohol
  • strategies to cope with feelings in a healthy way
  • introduction to healthy habits such as eating, sleeping, and exercising


On the other hand, teens who go to prison might only feel more strongly that they need to fight to survive, they need to avoid painful feelings, and that the world is an unsafe place. Teens who are incarcerated might rarely have the opportunity to change who they are and become a better person.



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