JOHNSON: Often, Jail Time Can Help Drug Offenders


Often, Jail Time Can

Help Drug Offenders

Editor’s Note: This is the second of occasional columns from the county’s Alcohol & Drug Task Force on the unintended consequences of the state’s bail reform.

By MATHEW JOHNSON • Special to

Bail Reform seems to be the headline in the media these days. The debate continues on the risk versus benefit to all residents – whether charged with a crime or not. While the debate continues, we are missing an opportunity to help those with addiction and mental health disorders.

People with addiction may be arrested for many different reasons.

They may be charged with possession of a drug that feeds their addiction. They may be charged with a crime that directly or indirectly supports their addiction.

In the past, bail was set and these residents were incarcerated because they were unable to make bail.

So what are the opportunities missed?

Incarceration can be the first point of contact for an individual with a substance-use disorder to access preventive services. It may be the very first step on their road to recovery.

It starts at intake when the correctional officers and the corrections medical team assess and address the needs of an inmate with a substance-use disorder. This is the starting point where the individual will receive support for the acute withdrawal.

The pathway forward is often moving the individual from incarceration in jail to an addiction rehabilitation and treatment center. This intervention helps to prevent the individual from suffering unintended consequences of substance-use disorder.

So what happens when individuals have no support system following an arrest, arraignment and release on their own recognizance?
What happens when an individual who has a substance-use disorder that is the underlying cause of the crime is released, only to continue to feed their addiction?

While bail reform is needed, the residents of New York State need a well thought out approach; one that respects equality and does not leave those who need services the most to suffer in silence.

Has bail reform created unintended consequences, missed opportunities or both? It would benefit all of us if the legislature can find common ground to address these issues, without collateral damage to anyone.

Mathew Johnson is an R.N. and community health nurse with the county Public Health Department, with experience as a R.N. at the county jail and county Family Services’ Division of Juvenile Justice.

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