Treatment, not jail, is best approach to drugs
In his May 14 guest column, state Sen. Don DeWitte calls a legislative proposal to reduce criminal penalties for small-scale drug possession "outrageous," arguing that the current overdose crisis is a reason to keep treating drug use as a felony. While I can appreciate his concern for Illinoisans, I believe that his argument is skewed.
The fact that we are experiencing record overdose deaths is evidence of the horrible job the current system is doing to address the harms associated with drug use. Individuals living with substance use disorders who are incarcerated usually don't receive access to the treatment they need, hence the issue is never addressed.
This is the miscarriage of justice in our current system. Criminalization, rather than treating the substance use disorder, continues to feed the "war on drugs," adding to the 3.3 million Illinoisans impacted by felony convictions and increasing the intergenerational harms and trauma that mainly impact individuals from Black and Latino communities.
It is appalling that the issues surrounding mass incarceration continue to be ignored and now that lawmakers are ready to address issues that are long overdue, they are criticized in this manner. In reality, the most success-driven way to reduce the number of overdose deaths is to address this public health issue in the manner that is recommended by public health experts: substance use treatment, not jail.