People convicted of drug offenses should be given a second chance. Instead, Michigan’s criminal justice system gives harsh sentences to non-violent drug offenders and people for whom drug use is a symptom of their mental illness. In these cases, prison is not only ineffective — it’s unjust. When prison time worsens someone’s drug addiction or mental issues, their eventual release puts the public at risk.
Fortunately, Governor Snyder’s “Smart Justice” plan, which has received wide support across the political spectrum, aims to reform Michigan’s criminal justice system. These reform efforts are facing strong opposition from the law enforcement lobby, so informed and engaged citizens need to make sure their voices are heard over those of special interest groups.
What Is the Purpose of the Criminal Justice System?
The criminal justice system has four main functions:
- The punishment of offenders — ensuring there are consequences to people’s criminal actions
- The deterrence of potential offenders — making punishments harsh enough so that people will think twice before committing crimes
- The rehabilitation of offenders — turning offenders away from their criminal tendencies
- The protection of public safety — making sure that criminals can’t hurt people and disrupt public order
Depending on their political agenda and personal convictions, pundits and politicians tend to have very different opinions about what role the criminal justice should have in our society. Most criminal justice experts now agree that the rehabilitation of offenders and the protection of the public should take precedence over punishment and deterrence. This is the approach taken by the Smart Justice reforms.
Focusing on Punishment Leads to Recidivism
Recidivism refers to when a criminal is released from jail and then ends up committing further crimes. It’s a big problem in the United States, where prisons and jails have such miserable conditions that it reinforces the antisocial and aggressive tendencies of many criminals.
Even worse, many nonviolent people who get sent to jail — such as drug users — change for the worse after a long sentence in a prison where fighting, drug dealing, and gangs are a part of daily life.
Making prison conditions bad as a way of punishing criminals may satisfy some people’s desire for revenge, but in the end it severely compromises public safety. Many people who spend their lives in and out of prison are unable to function in society without resorting to criminal activities for their livelihood, and in some cases, their entertainment.
Deterring Future Offenders with Harsh Punishment Does Not Work
Dr. Jonathan Groner of The Ohio State University College of Medicine and Public Health, who researches the deterrent effect of capital punishment, or the death penalty, told ABC News:
- “The psychological mind-set of the criminal is such that they are not able to consider consequences at the time of the crime. Most crimes are crimes of passion that are done in situations involving intense excitement or concern. People who commit these crimes are not in a normal state of mind — they do not consider the consequences in a logical way.”
Similarly, many drug users are not able to consider the consequences of their actions. The need to get high becomes more important than anything else: family, job, hobbies, and any potential punishment from the authorities.
What all this means is that when people are getting high or committing a robbery to pay for their drugs, the last thing on their mind is the potential prison sentence they may face if convicted of a crime. Thus, forcing offenders to endure harsh punishments in the hopes that future offenders will not commit crimes is an intensely unjust and misguided policy.
Drug Offenders Must Be Given a Second Chance in the Form of Rehabilitation
When a person gets arrested for using drugs, it’s clear that the only purpose served by a prison sentence is punishment. The public’s safety and the likelihood of getting that person off drugs is better served by rehabilitative programs that treat drug addiction as a mental condition, not a failure of conscience.
Only once people stop seeing punishment as an appropriate goal for the criminal justice system, and when the voice of the people drowns out the nagging of special interest groups such as the law enforcement lobby, will we be able to build a criminal justice system that promotes the health and safety of all Michiganders.
Contact a Michigan Drug Defense Lawyer For Help
Maurice Davis is a Michigan drug defense lawyer practicing in Detroit and its surrounding area. If you’ve been charged with a crime, you can call the Davis Law Group today at (313) 818-3238 for a free and confidential consultation about your case.