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If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem is you encounter is going to look like a nail.

In my opinion, in order to effectively change the course of people’s lives, the people working with them have the responsibility to introduce new tools.  The hammer is useful, but not with a screw.  Effective people have more than a hammer in their toolkit.

What happens if every person who came to treatment or prison simply had their tools taken away?  If you leave someone with nothing in their toolkit, or let them keep their hammer but legally bar them from gaining new tools, can you expect them to learn to use a drill or a circular saw or a wrench?

The War on Drugs is a heated, highly contested issue.  There are people who believe that drug offenders should be punished the fullest extent of the law.  Some people believe that drug laws shouldn’t exist at all, and that people should simply reap the natural and logical consequences of drug use.

I believe that some users are always going to use.  I believe that those people are in the minority.  I believe that if you have been using and/or dealing getting out of drug use and selling is going to be one of the hardest things you do in your life.  A drug conviction compounds the issue.  With a single drug conviction, federal law bars you from ever recieving food stamps.  Finding a job becomes increasingly difficult.  If you live in low-income housing you can be kicked out with your first conviction and find yourself homeless, barred from ever being able to use low-income housing again.

Essentially, with one conviction, you can lose your housing, source of food, and job.  And then, when drug offenders re-offend, we’re appalled.  We’re taking tools without providing new ones.

San Fransisco State University recently found that the stigma and punitive consequences for drug offences end up correlating with a high rate of re-offence for female offenders.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this finding generalized to the population.

If we want people to change their behaviors, we need to empower them to make those changes.

Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy (2009, May 7). Stigma Increases Likelihood That Drug Users Re-offend. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 7, 2009, from­ /releases/2009/05/090507190602.htm

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