American's addiction to prison plays itself out state-by-state. The thoughtfulness that goes behind how state governments are dealing with their individual "addiction" can often be measured the same as measuring the efficacy of a drug treatment program.
Maine, like the rest of America, is addicted to prisons. The only way we are going to beat this addiction is if we stop using our drug of choice — more prisons — for our current problem of prison overcrowding. The answer to prison overcrowding is fewer prisoners, not more prisons.
The principle reason our prisons are overcrowded is that jail time is our society’s preferred method of treating people who commit crimes primarily because they are addicted to drugs or alcohol, or are mentally ill. Half of all prisoners in America have these conditions as the primary problems that led to their crimes. If, as part of their sentences, we aggressively treated those prisoners for the illnesses they have instead of simply incarcerating them, and devoted more resources to treating these problems before they resulted in crimes, we would need fewer prisons, not more.
In recent discussions about running out of jail cells in Maine we have been doing just what addicts usually do when they run out of their drug — scramble desperately for more drugs. Recent proposals put forward as the answer to Maine’s prison overcrowding have primarily been ways of housing more prisoners, including sending state prisoners to county jails, outsourcing Maine’s prison overcrowding problem to other states by sending prisoners to a for-profit prison in Oklahoma, building a new prison in Cutler, and expanding the Charleston Correctional Facility.
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