As a provider of bail bonds, we work firsthand with those caught up in the justice system and in need of help. How many of the incarcerated in the US struggle with drug and alcohol addiction? How many of those could we be helping out of the system and into recovery by taking action as bondsmen to work more directly in the field of addiction recovery?
There is no doubt that the prison population in our country is much too large; according to statistics, there are roughly 2.3 million people in the US criminal justice system. What we don’t talk about enough is how often arrests can be linked to underlying abuse of drugs and/or alcohol. And the simple reason that we don’t talk about it enough is that it’s hard to pin a number on such a wide-reaching issue. For starters, you have to know what is considered a drug-related charge. In 2018, more than 1.6 million people were arrested for drug charges in the US, with roughly 1.4 million arrests related to possession. But that’s not accounting for the crimes related to addiction, such as violent crimes and property damage caused while under the influence or those committed in the quest for drug money, which an average of 25% of drug offenders report as their motive for crime. It’s fair to assume that whether or not the offender was under the influence at the time of arrest is irrelevant; many cases of theft, for example, being perpetrated on the grounds of funding an addiction. Despite one-fifth of the US population being incarcerated for drug charges, crime rates related to substance abuse are in decline. Knowing the massive role that addiction is playing in arrests today and that reduction in drug-related arrests has not been attributed to incarcerations, I had to ask myself, as a bonds agent, what it is that the criminal justice system is missing.
More Must Be Done
We’re not doing enough. As bondsmen, we aren’t doing enough to dampen the flow of individuals suffering from addiction through the criminal justice system. Addiction has been such an increasingly rampant issue in the United States for decades; one that created the D.A.R.E. movement and made saying no to drugs a household pledge. Now our prisons are full and many of the inhabitants have been through the system more than once. Of those reincarcerated, a high percentage meet the criteria to be treated for some form of substance abuse. By not giving these people better aid, we’re failing them.
Many US prisons have programs to help inmates deal with the issues related to drug and alcohol abuse that they may be forced to confront behind bars. But with a reported 11% of the more than one million inmates with substance abuse concerns receiving treatment, it’s easy to question the efficiency of such programs. The evidence does show that treatment programs, whether offered under incarceration or as an option after release, are effective in the rehabilitation of numerous individuals.
But what about the families of those in need of treatment? Drug and alcohol abuse can cut a wide rift in your life, as well as the lives of the people you care about most. Often having limited resources, these programs are not always available to the families and loved ones of those who suffer from the impact of that same addiction.
The Victims of Addiction
Addiction hurts those closest to us in many ways, and it is not always easy to repair those bonds once broken. Seeing the way that families were affected by a sudden arrest coupled with the weight of addiction is a large part of what led me down the road to becoming Connecticut’s first bondsman to be certified as a recovery coach through CCAR Recovery Coach Academy. Connecticut prisons aren’t able to help family members on the outside to handle the aftermath and recovery of a loved one’s addiction, so there was a natural hole in the criminal justice system that I felt could easily be filled by a committed and compassionate individual. It takes an active and empathetic listener who truly cares about the lives of individuals they may never have met to be able to provide help for addiction. There just aren’t a lot of people who can manage to fill those shoes on top of being a bail bondsman around the clock. It’s not something you jump into lightly, but it’s extremely rewarding to be able to provide such help to a community that has traditionally been so nurturing.
I believe in meeting people where they are. If where you are is rock bottom, then it’s going to take some rope to haul you back up, but we’re more than capable of doing it. The rope, in this case, is a combination of things: an affordable option for bail bonds for the arrested, and the start of a path to recovery for the addicted.
The prison system is not always a reliable option for drug or alcohol rehabilitation programs. Most of those arrested and jailed on drug-related charges or crimes stemming from their addiction return to the system sooner or later. They are unable to get the help they need while behind bars and are subsequently unable to create coping skills that allow them to reenter society effectively. In the end, more than half of the incarcerated addicts end up with a repeat offender record. It should be obvious then that bail bonds are an essential service to those struggling with addiction, just as recovery services and programs are already. It is this connection that has led me to become a recovery coach as well as a certified bondsman.
Providing addiction recovery services in conjunction with bail bonds is not just necessary for the rehabilitation of the individual, but the rehabilitation of the criminal justice system itself.