Drug Courts

Former Drug Czar Advisor Says Obama's "Third Way" Drug Policy Involves "Short Stints in Jail"

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A former senior analyst with the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Obama says the "third way" drug policy frequently invoked by Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske as an alternative to incarceration often involves "short stints in jail" when users fail to stay abstinent. 

In a letter to U.S. News and World Report, Kevin Sabet, a former senior policy advisor to Kerlikowske and one of the architects of Obama's drug control strategy (now in its third year), writes 

Decades of research have shown that treatment reduces crime and saves money. But newer interventions, like drug courts or interventions that combine positive drug tests with very short sanctions (like 1-3 days in jail) can significantly reduce drug use and help people live a better life. Using the judicial system wisely by enforcing abstinence with short stints in jail is an incentive drug users sometimes need—indeed it has shown to work better than traditional, voluntary treatment alone.

Emphasis mine. This is the first time that a member of Obama's drug team--current or former--has admitted in public that the President's "third way" policy involves incarcerating users who fail drug tests after being "diverted." 

Sabet's letter should have several implications for Obama's new policy. For starters, it should garner some follow-up reporting from mainstream media outlets that ran sucker stories after Kerlikowske spoke at the Center for American Progress in May; and again in June, after Kerlikowske made similar statements at the Betty Ford Center:

Drug czar wants to treat addiction rather than wage 'war'

Drug Czar Kerlikowske Promotes 'Paradigm Shift' on Abuse

Drug czar says addiction is a health problem, not a moral failing

Treat drug abuse as public health issue, US czar says

Drug Czar Wants Renewed Focus On Recovery

Drug policy laws, focus must change, 'czar' insists

Drug Czar: Addicts Should Receive Treatment, Not Just Prosecution 

The Obama administration has scored one drug-war PR victory after another by falsely claiming that it's spending more on treatment and prevention than on enforcement. Thanks to Sabet, we know those treatment dollars are actually paying for "short stints in jail." 

But even that claim needs qualifying. According to a report released last year by the Drug Policy Alliance, if 120,000 people a year enter drug court (which is what the ONDCP claims), only 25,000 will complete the program. The rest are incarcerated. Furthermore, "even if drug courts were dramatically expanded to scale to cover all people arrested for drug possession, between 500,000 and 1 million people would still be ejected from a drug court and sentenced conventionally every year."