Last year, Floyd County Superior Court Judge Susan Orth told the News and Tribune that she saw opioid abuse-related cases almost daily in her court. Part of the paper’s special series, “Crossroads of Crisis,” exploring the opioid epidemic plaguing our community, Floyd County Sheriff Frank Loop commented in that same article that jail might be the best place someone can go to detox.
Fast forward a year later, despite numerous concerns expressed by the community, the Floyd County Council has now approved Sheriff Loop’s request to invest $15 million to expand the jail. The News and Tribune reports renovations will include the addition of 110 more beds, a new security system, kitchen remodel and improvements to heating and air, ventilation, lighting and plumbing systems.
At a time when Floyd County faces a nearly $5 million budget deficit, with opioid addiction devastating many of our youth and families, is spending $15 million on a bigger jail the best investment for our community?
A Pew Charitable Research study from earlier this year found that the “surge” in spending on federal prisons failed to reduce the rate of recidivism for drug-related offenses. And as more and more people are imprisoned for drug-related crimes, Indiana jails are quickly becoming second-rate rehab facilities that lack any real detox, counseling or education resources for opioid addicts.
Rather than expanding the jail, and turning a blind eye to a growing crisis, we should consider investing in things like long-term rehabilitation programs, mental health treatment facilities, and counseling and medication-assisted treatments — putting money where it can help those suffering from addiction and help our entire county along the way.
According to the ACLU, America’s incarcerated population has increased by 700 percent since 1970. With 2.3 million people imprisoned, U.S. incarceration rates have far outpaced population growth and crime rates — costing taxpayers $80 billion per year.
“Despite making up close to five percent of the global population, the U.S. has nearly 25 percent of the world’s prison population,” claims the ACLU. The organization also found that there are twice as many people currently placed in local jails, awaiting trials, than the entire federal prison system.
Incarcerating people for addiction only reinforces the problematic nature of expanding our correctional facilities. For those caught in the vicious cycle of addiction, imprisonment is not a deterrent — those struggling with addiction need trained healthcare providers and medical treatment. We should be working to better Floyd County, not spending money we don’t have to build more jail cells. By investing in programs that keep people out of jail and help them return to healthy and productive lives, we can save not only those who are struggling, but our entire community.