Opinion: Rehabilitative Justice for Non-Violent Offenders

One of the biggest issues facing the legal system today is over-population in the prison system. By the end of 2014, 18 states reported to be operating over 100 percent with the national average at roughly 104%.


Of that overcrowded population, approximately 65% of them are non-violent offenders with an overwhelming percentage of drug offenders nearing 50%.


These stats do not distinguish between addicts, dealers, or individuals with mental health or co-occurring disorders. These numbers could not reasonably be assumed to accurately detail this demographic but I do think they paint a picture that, if looked at pragmatically, calls for a drastic change to the system. Additionally, with the levels of recidivism for drug offenders over 75% it is clear that incarceration is not solving the problem.


So, if incarceration is not fixing the glaring problem, and the psychological and cultural risk factors associated with incarceration are likely encouraging a return to criminal behavior after incarceration, it stands to reason the punitive model is not the best fit for drug offenders or any non-violent offenders. Specifically, drug offenders with a substance use disorder, mental health, or co-occurring disorder as they continue to reoffend after being released.


I do not necessarily support a full decriminalization of all drugs, but I do support more of a push to a rehabilitative model than a punitive model of justice. I am living proof that rehabilitation can work, and I know countless others who are also proof of this fact. Likewise, I know many who are evidence that the punitive model of incarceration does not fix the problem. In recent years, the United States has started to move more in the direction of rehabilitation for these offenders. However, so much more can be done. Thanks for reading!


  1. They likely won’t do this because they make more money off the prison system. If they rehab those that can be rehabbed, they’ll lose that money. Honestly, if we fixed the economy and made better education and jobs available for everyone, as well as better ages, a lot of drug dealers would probably stop. Some do it out of necessity, because drugs are easier to access than jobs. Others realize that they’ll never get that kind of money in a legitimate job setting and will never stop.

    It’s a vicious cycle.

  2. I work in the CJ system but I am also a recovering heroin addict, among other things. Economically speaking, I agree that better opportunities might help alleviate some of the problem and I don’t think officials realize the benefit of rehabilitation. Not only do you create new workers, but the need for rehabilitation programs would grow exponentially and create new jobs; not just for drug addicts but for the under-skilled non-violent offenders as well (GED, job skill/placement, etc.). But, in the legal system it seems the biggest issue is cultural. Glorifying crime, dealing drugs, and doing drugs is a staple in the entertainment industry which only exacerbates the problem.

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