Helping inmates help themselves makes sense

When you consider about 130 people are booked into the Snohomish County jail each month for drunken driving, news that officials are bringing in counseling for drug and alcohol abuse only makes sense.

Before you ask what took so long, remember this is the same jail that has been overcrowded for years and under scrutiny for past problems. By this fall, offenders could be receiving treatment for drug and alcohol problems. Later on, that could include anger management, job-readiness and parenting classes for inmates.

This is a welcome approach to tackling some of the county’s many criminal justice issues – and it’s not a case of being soft on crime. If applied with the same high standards as the county’s drug court, these new programs should not only offer clear expectations and much-needed accountability measures, but potentially great results.

At a time when the county is going through the priorities of government process, looking for ways to help people live successful, healthy lives is a natural priority. People who have overcome addictions and problems in their lives are far less likely to hurt others and wind up in our legal system – whether they’re there once or twice, or a member of the frequent-flier club referred to in previous Herald articles. That doesn’t mean people won’t slip up once outside of jail, but it’s more likely they’ll ask for help and know where to get it than if they hadn’t received any treatment at all, or had to wait for it until they finished serving their jail time.

Snohomish County spends millions more every year on criminal justice than on human services. That’s not uncommon. But when we have an opportunity to focus on human services as a means of relieving our criminal justice system a little and allowing people to succeed, we ought to take it. Early last year, Snohomish County came under criticism from a criminal justice consultant who said officials weren’t doing enough to stem the problems of drug and alcohol abuse as well as domestic violence. A lot of people are locked away – many over and over again – for those very problems, the consultant said.

The new programs won’t have an immediate impact; they’re an investment, a jail official told a Herald reporter. It’s OK if it takes a few years to see results. The point is to get them.

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