A growing number of states are renouncing some of the long prison sentences that have been a hallmark of the war on drugs and instead focusing on treatment, which once-skeptical lawmakers now say is proved to be less expensive and more effective, says the Wall Street Journal. Last week, Kentucky became the latest to make the shift. Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania are among those with bills pending to reduce penalties for drug offenders, in some cases by directing defendants into treatment programs. Similar laws have taken effect in South Carolina, Colorado, and New York in recent years.
While the changes are part of broader belt-tightening efforts, they also reflect a growing belief among state lawmakers that prosecuting drug offenders aggressively often fails to treat their underlying addiction problems and can result in offenders cycling in and out of prisons for years—a critique long voiced by groups that advocate in favor of defendants’ rights. Others argue such changes send the wrong message. “You need to have serious consequences or repercussions in place if people use heroin, Oxycontin” and other drugs, said Scott Burns of the National District Attorneys Association.