When I was a child growing up in Kentucky, my father made regular visits − usually at night − to the local jail to provide medical care to inmates. In one way or another, substances were the root cause of both their illnesses and their incarceration. My teetotaler father had other gritty experiences with alcohol, finding himself from a young age getting his beloved “Uncle Ed” out of the drunk tank over and over again.
Elements of these recollections from the 1950s and 60s are as universal today as ever — the impact of substance abuse on the individual, the ripple effect of addiction and incarceration on the family, imprisonment instead of treatment — but the explosion in the rates of incarceration in this country have created a crisis of proportions unthinkable in the post-WWII era. According to the Pew Charitable Trust report, Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility, there are now 2.3 million