Facing Addiction: Pretrial Justice is Important to Addressing the Substance Use Crisis


Guest blog by Michael King, Director of Outreach & Engagement, Facing Addiction

The so-called War on Drugs, now in its fourth decade, has cost over $1 trillion and led to nearly 45 million arrests. As a result—and not surprisingly—the majority of the 65 million Americans with criminal records have struggled with a substance use disorder at some point in their lives. Yet accidental drug overdoses are now the leading cause of preventable death in America. 

One doesn’t need a deep knowledge of public policy to realize that arresting our way out of the addiction problem has not been, and will never be, successful.

Finally, a national non-profit organization is developing responses to America’s addiction crisis that can succeed—from presenting healthcare-related solutions to working with stakeholders in the critical area of criminal justice reform.

Facing Addiction is unifying the voices of the 45 million-plus Americans and their families directly impacted by addiction. Our vision is to bring together the best resources in the field in order to reduce the human and social costs of addiction, every year, until this public health crisis is eliminated. We are proud to have the Pretrial Justice Institute in our coalition of partnering organizations, the Facing Addiction Action Network.

One of our programs is a Pilot Community Project aimed at communities looking for targeted, grassroots approaches for changing the public safety response to substance use disorders. The goals of this project are to:

  • Develop campaigns in our targeted communities to raise awareness of the crisis;
  • Utilize our base to encourage local leaders in law enforcement, healthcare, and government to establish guidelines that, where applicable, divert low-risk defendants from court involvement or formal criminal justice system supervision to health-centered interventions; and
  • Encourage law enforcement to include and/or expand comprehensive addiction and recovery training programs for criminal and juvenile justice stakeholders.

Fifteen communities have been selected from more than 50 applicants to participate in this pilot project. Upon completion, we will evaluate best practices and organizational tactics and provide a refined template for ongoing programming. The selected communities will receive the following guidance from Facing Addiction’s Public Safety Working Group:

  • Working with the community to secure increases in localized funding;
  • Training of advocates on proper organizational and advocacy techniques to reform their community’s response;
  • Communication with elected officials and other policy makers; and
  • Providing media strategies to gain press coverage that further highlights the issues.

Working with partners like the Pretrial Justice Institute on projects such as our Pilot Community Program is a crucial step in tackling the law enforcement-centric response to the health crisis we face as a country. Improving pretrial justice is a key part of the solution—and developing local strategies to reform responses is a vital step toward bringing hope into communities currently ravaged with unnecessary deaths, wasted tax dollars, and mourning families.

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