Lemaitre of the ONDCP feels that the expansion of programs that blend criminal justice and public health -- programs he says are proven to reduce costs and improve health outcomes -- is another win for the administration that should be celebrated by anyone who wants drug users to get help instead of jail time. And he points out that the $1.4 billion boost in funding to pay for the policy shift that will come along with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2014 represents "the largest single year expansion of treatment funding in a generation, maybe of all time."
The problem, critics say, with the new system the administration envisions is that while addiction may be a great equalizer, who gets arrested for drug crimes is not. Holder's address noted this fact, stating that "...some of the enforcement priorities we've set have had a destabilizing effect on particular communities, largely poor and of color." And yet while Holder is willing to shift the policy towards sentencing people convicted of drug offenses, there's nothing in his address stating that law enforcement will be any less likely to arrest people for them. Presumably the racial disparities in arrest rates will continue.
"The more relevant victory regarding racial disparities in arrests this week was the Stop & Frisk decision," says Thomas, referring to the federal judge's ruling that the controversial policy was tantamount to racial profiling. "The justice system is broken but needs to be fixed across the whole system, including the people we arrest, not just how we sentence."
Criminal justice policy reformers say that when courts flood the drug treatment centers with the kinds of drug offenders who more often get arrested, the outcome is no longer a system for treating drug addicts who want help with their drug problems. Instead, the treatment system becomes an extensive community-based surveillance network whose primary purpose is to monitor the behavior of people who are primarily black and poor. In fact, as some sociologists have argued, this changes the definition of what a drug problem is and who requires treatment. This suits perfectly the needs of a justice system that refuses to decriminalize drugs, but now has to put offenders somewhere other than jail.
To illustrate this problem, picture two different drug users. The first is 19 years old, white and attends a big city private university. Like a lot of college kids, he likes to party. From Thursday through Sunday he's probably either drinking heavily and smoking pot, or getting ready to do so. The rest of the week finds him trying to catch up on his school work, but he'll still take a toke here and there between classes or after hours in the dorm if someone offers it to him. When he gets really slammed with work during midterms and finals he'll find a classmate with some extra Adderall and abuse those pills, crushing them into a powder and snorting them, to power through some all-nighters. At the end of the semester his grades aren't bad, so his parents aren't complaining, although they'd probably be concerned if they knew the full extent of his partying. He's not too concerned with the extent of his partying, because most of the people he knows at school party just like he does. If he sat down in front of an addiction treatment professional for an evaluation, he'd likely qualify as having a substance use disorder and would receive a referral to outpatient treatment. But he doesn't feel like he has a problem, doesn't want to stop using drugs, and doesn't want help for what he considers to be part of his typical college lifestyle.