For those convicted of drug crimes in New York, prison may not be the most effective or appropriate response. Federal and state lawmakers have struggled for decades over the best way to address drug crimes. Researchers have gathered years of data to try and figure out what works and what does not. 

According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, increasing the number of drug offenders in prison has no positive effect on a state’s drug problems. 

Why prison? 

The idea behind having prison sentences for nonviolent drug crimes is to deter drug use and addiction. Research suggests, however, that harsher prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders have no bearing whatsoever on the number of drug users in a state. The research shows that there are few, if any, correlations between the number of people incarcerated for drug crimes and the numbers of self-reported drug use, addiction rates, and drug overdose deaths in a state. 

What alternatives are there? 

Instead of imprisonment, other responses like treatment and counseling can be more beneficial for low-level and nonviolent drug offenders. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people who enter drug treatment because they are legally required, show the same rates of success as people who voluntarily enter treatment. Sometimes treatment occurs along with incarceration, but in other cases it may be a condition of probation and no prison time is necessary. 

When the criminal justice system works alongside drug treatment services through personnel and services combining or working together, there is a greater likelihood of success. People who enter mandated treatment need a lot of follow-up and support to ensure continuing success.