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White House Clemency Initiative Could Release Thousands of Drug Dealers, Addicts and Users Back Into Society

While Addiction Can Be Cured, Consequences Should Be Served for Crimes and Release Should be Transitional and Supervised

Philadelphia, PA—A recent initiative by the U.S. Justice Department could grant clemency to thousands of prisoners currently in jails across the country—convicted on drug charges.

Last week, the Justice Department announced plans to increase the number of federal prisoners who are eligible for release, issuing guidelines for those who have already served at least 10 years behind bars.

While addiction can be “cured” and addicts can certainly change for the better, wiping out punishments for drug crimes shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Those of us in counseling and recovery careers can attest to the fact that drug users—even those with the worst kinds of addictions—can be rehabilitated and turn their lives around. Consequences for crimes they’ve committed, however, need to be served, and for many, a hasty release back into society could have devastating effects, especially if no rehabilitation process has been initiated while incarcerated. Simply opening a prison cell door for some drug offenders is not the best course of action. Prison release needs to be a transition happening over time. For example, as skills, responsibilities and recovery are proven, then privileges can be increased. The initial significant supervision and oversight can be tapered down as track record improves.
Benzio notes that taxpayer money is much better spent on rehabilitation than on simple incarceration. He adds, however, that much must be taken into account when deciding who is eligible for release. The opposite of addiction is belonging, so helping the addict develop a sense of belonging to something, relationships, family, church, and ultimately God will powerfully replace their relationship with drugs.

The addict’s track record before incarceration, the reason for incarceration, and then most importantly, the inmate’s behavior while in jail are the major components determining the next steps of treatment and release. Participation in some sort of faith-based prison addiction program, seeing the big picture of life, realize they belong to God, finding purpose and value from God, and ignoring shortcuts would be good indicators of the person’s willingness to truly change. Ongoing treatment and urine drug screenings should also be a critical part of a powerful discharge plan—with follow-up and accountability specifically included in that plan.

The clemency initiative is part of an overarching plan by the Obama Administration to lessen sentences for nonviolent offenders and curb prison overcrowding. The Justice Department says the plan will move forward “quickly and effectively.”

Deputy Attorney General James Cole outlined six criteria that inmates must meet to be eligible for release, including: serving at least 10 years of their sentence, not having a “significant criminal history,” being “non-violent, low-level offenders” with no significant ties to major gangs, having a good prison conduct record and no history of violence, and falling into the category of those who would have likely gotten a lesser sentence if convicted today.

karl-benzio-1Dr. Karl Benzio MD, Christian Psychiatrist, writer, speaker, media guest expert, social issue activist, and the founder and clinical director of Lighthouse Network. Benzio brings scientific expertise and biblical principles together to examine common daily struggles and help people successfully navigate life’s storms. His experiences include teaching pastors, ministry leaders and students about counseling, leadership, parenting, marriage, and conflict resolution skills in traumatized areas like Uganda, Kenya and post-Hussein Iraq. He is currently a member of Focus on the Family’s Physicians Resource Council, the Pennsylvania Director of the American Academy of Medical Ethics, and serves on many other social policy task forces. His specialties include adolescents, addictions, decision-making and infusing spirituality into treatment. Benzio shares psycho-spiritual insights via his Stepping Stones daily devotional, on his one-minute daily radio feature “Life Change with Dr. Karl,” on 425 Christian radio stations and on iDisciple.org.

Email: KBenzio@LighthouseNetwork.org

Twitter: @drkarlb