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.