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Weighing the issue of civil liberties

December 29, 2008
by Rob Swindell
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Ohio legislators recently passed House Bill 130, which is aimed at easing the re-entry of inmates upon release from prison, reducing prison overcrowding, and promoting substance abuse treatment (in lieu of incarceration).

The ACLU, of which I am a member, calls this a victory for civil liberties. While I agree, I also have some reservations. I regard civil liberties as the unfair intrusion of government into the rights of its citizens. However, these rights need to be agreed upon by society— one of which is the right to be safe and free from criminal activity (based on society’s definition of “criminal activity”).

I think that many of the drug-related punishments that came out of the “war on drugs” are not only a bit harsh, but are also unfairly applied across a range of demographics—such as wealth and race. I also think that it is in society’s interest to have people rehabilitated rather than sitting in jail. However, we still have to balance the right of society to be safe with the rights of people that have committed a criminal offense.

Many crimes are, in one aspect or another, drug-related. Therefore, I think society has a legitimate concern, particularly considering the success rate of rehabilitation from drug addiction and the likelihood of criminal behavior that may result from those that are unsuccessful. Many people, including enforcement officers, are skeptical of treatment programs. Conversely, by working in the addiction field, we see remarkable life successes, and argue that treatment is a cost-effective alternative to prison.

But to be fair, let us put this in another perspective, one that takes us away from our implied prejudices of alcohol and drug addiction treatment. Consider another group that has some difficult civil liberty issues and suffers from severe societal stigmatism—sex offenders.

Ask yourself how comfortable you would be with a sex-offender living next door to you and your kids. Then ask what success rate of rehabilitation it would take before you were completely comfortable with that neighbor interacting with your kids—30 percent, 60 percent, 90 percent? Maybe not at all, regardless of treatment success?

Okay, maybe that is not completely fair; however, it does offer a perspective as to the point in which society’s interest in having a criminal incarcerated is balanced with the civil liberty interest of that criminal to be rehabilitated and re-entered into society and our neighborhoods. For me, it is a difficult balance, and not just a civil liberties issue in which victory is easily defined.

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Comments

The comparison to sex offenders may be valid to some, but I believe really stretches the point. Addiction is a disease that has been criminalized. The jails are full of individuals whose only crime was having a disease, not robbery, rape, murder etc. When will professionals and society in general wake up to the fact that the 'War on Drugs' is really a war on individual constitutional rights? This article was supposedly written by an ACLU member.... Not the ACLU I know....

Owell, I could go on ad nauseum... I am a recovering addict who was never arrested. I have my full constitutional rights and am now a contributing member of society. If I had a criminal record, I could not pursue my current career..... How many years must society pay for this short sighted idea that we should treat a disease as a crime? How many talented individuals, in recovery, must work at menial jobs because they were convicted of having an addiction? Will Mikkey D even hire people with a record? Not where I live....

The chances of being victimized by a drug or alcohol addicted offender are greater than the chances of being victimized by a sex offender

Let's be fair, while the decriminalization of some or all illegal drugs might have positive efects in terms of criminal behavior, it would not not eliminate demand, the profit motive, or addictive outcomes. The analogy might be alcohol and the end of Prohibition.

How much has the criminalization of various substances lead to addiction? Also, if various substances were not illegal, the supply would dry up as there would no longer be a profit motive to supply them.

Rob, your comparison with sex offenders is quite thought-provoking!

Wonderful story, reckoned we could cmbione a few unrelated data, nevertheless really worth taking a look, whoa did one learn about Mid East has got more problerms as well

Rob Swindell

Rob Swindell

@robswindell

www.robswindell.com

Rob Swindell is the Associate Director of the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services (ADAS) Board...