As the report A Just Chicago notes, as an alternative to incarceration “drug treatment in the community is twice as effective at curtailing drug use, keeps students from having a parent in prison, and, in Illinois, costs 63% less (Kane-Willis, 2009).” (see page Justice). For that reason, the recent announcement by Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez that she will prosecute fewer people for low-level drug offenses comes as a welcome turn toward sound policy. However, as Adeshina Emmanuel reports at the Chicago Reporter, this sound policy will likely be undermined by the sorry state of Chicago’s social services. As the city’s underfunding continues without any turn toward new revenue streams, the drug treatment and other mental and emotional health services necessary to make this turn successful in addressing drug addiction are undermined by a City that is “broke on purpose.”
We hope that the insight made by some sections of the city’s elite that their punitive policies no longer fool the public will be matched by the political will to fund solutions. If past practice is any indicator, however, this policy will likely follow a familiar path. First, there will be hope for something new. Then, the problems of underfunding will make the policy change ineffective. Ineffective policies will lead to anger and cynicism. Cynicism will be exploited to further more punitive policies and further cut social services. The only hope of arresting this vicious cycle is a movement that exposes it and demands better.