Letter to the Editor in the New York Times
March 21, 2009
Prison drug treatment is cost-effective. For every dollar spent on prison substance abuse treatment, states save $2 to $6 on reduced recidivism and health care costs.
Megan McLemore, health and human rights researcher for Human Rights Watch

To the Editor:

Re "Paterson Is Said to Seek Narrower Overhaul of Drug Laws" (news article, March 11):

Gov. David A. Paterson is wrong to propose cutting in-prison drug treatment programs out of the drug law reform bill to save money.

Prison drug treatment is cost-effective. For every dollar spent on prison substance abuse treatment, states save $2 to $6 on reduced recidivism and health care costs.

In New York, prison officials say that three out of four inmates need alcohol or drug treatment. But prison treatment programs are badly in need of reform.

Because programs are filled to capacity, prisoners wait months, even years, for treatment. At the same time, discipline for drug use is overly harsh and denies treatment to those who may need it the most.

Prisoners using drugs, some of whom may be struggling with addiction, lose years of "good time," delaying their release dates and pushing incarceration costs even higher.

Leaving the prisons out of drug law reform is bad public health and bad fiscal policy.

Megan McLemore
New York, March 18, 2009

The writer is a researcher in health and human rights at Human Rights Watch.