If you’re a riverward citizen who is — like I am — concerned about the problems of drug addiction in areas like the corner of Kensington and Somerset, you might want to listen to what New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has to say on the topic of drug abusers.
You might think that a large, abrasive Republican like Christie takes a hard-line stance on drug addicts and says they’re just petty criminals and losers who need nothing more than a stern talking-to and a bonk on the head with a nightstick.
Gov. Christie is committed to taking non-violent drug offenders out of prison and placing them into rehabilitation.
That, by the way, is largely considered the best option to combat the drug problem, according to anyone with a shred of knowledge on the subject.
And by “anyone” I mean physicians, psychologists and drug-treatment counselors.
Ya know, mart people.
Christie cites the success of smaller rehabilitation programs as evidence of the effectiveness of favoring treatment over jail time for non-violent drug offenders, like many of the addicts you might see hovering around the drug market at the Somerset El stop.
Lots of those addicts will end up in jail — if they haven’t been there already — and simply continue to drain our tax dollars once they’re locked up.
And when those addicts leave jail, they’ll likely head right back to Kensington and Somerset, generally making life miserable for the people living there.
On top of the tax money those addicts already cost us while in prison, taxpayers have to shell out more to have them locked up again.
We also have to pay the cops and the judges, making our taxes that much higher, which hurts your wallet even more considering that you missed a day of work when you were called to jury duty to weigh the case against the dope dealer who sold the heroin to the addict in the first place!
Simply put, Christie’s preference for drug treatment, rather than jail lodging, is the way to go, especially here in Philly.
Right now the Pennsylvania prison system is a big fat porker, stuffing itself on non-violent drug offenders who spend years in prison — a lot of years, because of our mandatory sentencing laws — rather than in rehabilitation centers.
It costs a lot of money.
According to the state’s Department of Corrections (as pointed out in a January 2011 report by state auditor general Jack Wagner), housing an inmate for one year costs roughly $36,000, which pays for all the metal bars, meals and comfy prison pillows, plus a few doctors to stitch those shank wounds.
Rehab and drug-treatment costs can vary, but in general, it costs a lot less, especially in the long run since those non-violent drug addicts are less likely to remain drug addicts if they’re required to see doctors trained to treat their addiction. It beats letting them suffer through withdrawal in prison.
Too often, our drug policies are determined by politicians who are beholden to voters but too often, I’m sorry to say, don’t have the slightest bit of information about the issues they’re voting on.
There are always knee-jerk reactions to ideas like Christie’s, who seems to understand that addiction is a disease or, at the very least, a neurological disorder.
I don’t agree with Christie on much. I do think we should give him credit for having the guts to favor drug treatment over jail time before the end of his first term as governor. Politicians usually try to be re-elected before voicing their edgier opinions.
But it’s not easy to look at a drug addict shambling into the shadows at the corner of Helen and Somerset streets and say, “This man is sick.” Our knee-jerk reactions tend to stoke our anger at a problem, and that anger gets lodged in our ears.
So when guys like Christie — and the medical professionals who’ve studied addiction — say that maybe those addicts have certain mental disorders that need to be treated, some people tend not to listen and stick with the poorly informed but popular idea that addicts are just losers unworthy of proper care.
Then they vote for people who share that poorly informed but popular idea. And nothing changes.
Angry people who won’t listen to smart folks are always doing stuff like this. I figure that the type of people who let their anger get in the way of logic are just like the dunces who tossed Galileo in jail for saying the Earth revolved around the sun.
Well, guess what?
The earth indeed revolves around the sun, and those addicts at Kensington and Somerset are going to remain addicts — and will remain a drain on our tax dollars — until we introduce some new ideas about how to treat them. ••
“Riverward Rants” reflects the opinions of Joe Quigley, a Fishtown resident, area native and writer of the Web site PhillyNeighbor.com, where he makes cynical (and uncensored) comments about life in the riverwards. He can be reached at JQuig1984@gmail.com