Diverting drug offenders to rehab is more effective

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New Bedford’s announcement last month that city police will begin diverting offenders who struggle with addiction to treatment programs, not jail, is a welcome one for us all.

For too long, communities have relied solely on punitive responses to illegal drug use and misdemeanors related to drug and alcohol addiction, leading to jails that are overflowing with those struggling with addiction. As far back as 2010, a study by CASAColumbia at Columbia University showed that as much as 65 percent of all U.S. inmates met the criteria for substance abuse addiction.

The recent public shift toward a perception of drug abuse as a public health crisis, not simply criminal activity, opened the door to new responses from law enforcement.