A Bitter Pill
Prisons have become the deadly epicenter of Alabama’s addiction crisis. Even as the state’s response begins to show signs of success elsewhere. How do we bridge the gap?
“What good is it throwing someone in prison and they’re just going to hurt themselves?”
“I told her, I said, I’m not trying to get anything besides help. I’m afraid of what’s going to happen to me and my children if I don’t get some help. Something’s wrong. I need help. And I did not get that help.”
– Charisse Parker
“They said ‘We can bury him, but you cannot come and see him.’”
– Glenda Hester on the death of her son Brent
“That person now sees me just like them, but clean. So that gives them hope.”
– Tunja Tolbert
Expand Medicaid and otherwise generously fund public and behavioral health infrastructure to reduce the likelihood that people with substance use disorder will come into contact with the criminal legal system at all and create opportunities to authentically divert them when the do.
Reclassify simple possession of a controlled substance, and possession of paraphernalia, as misdemeanors instead of felonies.
Clarify that medical decisions should be made by medical professionals, not judges, lawyers, or corrections staff, and support medication assisted treatment by:
Amend laws regulating diversion programs to ensure that people who are unsuccessful in their attempts to seek treatment through programs like drug court do not face harsher punishment than people who do not participate in programs at all.
Fully fund diversion programs and take other steps to make them more accessible to the people who need them.
Law enforcement agencies should continue to train officers in the use of life-saving interventions like Narcan. Officers should be empowered and encouraged to divert people whose behavioral crises are driven by substance use disorder to crisis centers without arresting them, to minimize potentially harmful contact with jails and the criminal legal system.
Jails and prisons should ensure that all corrections staff have access to and are trained in the use of Narcan and other life-saving interventions, and should consider making Narcan and fentanyl test strips available for use by people who are incarcerated.