Authored by Elliott Redwine, | Medically Reviewed by Dr. Elizabeth Drew, MD
Last Updated: April 17, 2021

Most drugs are illegal throughout the United States. This includes drugs such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and acid. Other substances like marijuana, prescription painkillers, or prescription amphetamines, are illegal under certain conditions. The legal system is tasked with handling drug-related cases in the United States. Any number of things involving drugs or even alcohol can result in legal action. 

Selling illicit substances often results in automatic legal action. Drug distribution of any kind is a serious offense. But getting caught while buying, possessing, or taking drugs often leads to legal action as well. Anyone involved with drugs in any of these manners will likely find themselves at least ticketed, if not arrested. Operating a motor vehicle while under the influence is grounds for severe legal repercussions, too.

The specific charges a person receives for their drug-related actions depend on a few factors. The type or types of drugs, the amount, the town or state where the person is, and any existence of previous charges all play a role. If ordered to appear in court, sentencing could be as simple as community service or a fine, or as severe as doing time in jail or prison.

Using jail time as a go-to line of defense against people using drugs isn’t the best way to take on many of these cases. Sure, some who run into substance-related trouble aren’t regular drug or alcohol users. They ended up getting caught in the one-off time they were involved with drugs. This isn’t the case for most people with legal troubles stemming from substance use, though. Most of them have existing substance or alcohol use problems.

Rehab vs. Jail Time: How Drug Rehab Provides a Path to Recovery

Treating Drug Addiction with Time

Relying on the jail and prison system to handle people with drug problems isn’t the most effective approach. Drug addiction is a deep-seated issue. It’s not easy to stop and people can’t “just quit using,” as some may believe. Drug rehab is a much better alternative to jail time for many people struggling with addiction. Comparing the benefits of rehab vs. jail time is crucial when looking at those in the system for drug offenses.

People who struggle with substance abuse and addiction are more likely to end up with drug charges. Once someone is charged with a drug-related crime they quickly find themselves wrapped up in the legal system. For some individuals, the cycle of addiction also involves an extensive cycle in the court system. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, 1 out of 5 people incarcerated is doing time for a drug-related offense.

People who carry a record have a harder time meeting their basic needs. For example, looking for housing or finding a job often involves a background check. Seeing drug-related criminal charges will likely make a potential landlord or employer hesitate. Someone trying to escape the cycle of addiction and rebuild their 

Is locking up those with substance use disorder the most effective approach? People have little to no access to adequate drug rehabilitation while behind bars, especially compared to a qualified drug rehab facility. Offering offenders the option to attend drug rehab provides an alternative path to recovery for those who would end up trapped in the system for substances.

Drug Rehab: The Effective Alternative

How Long Do Drug-Related Lockups Last?

There is an alarming number of people doing time for charges related to drugs, often stemming from a struggle with drug addiction. Of the 1 in 5 people incarcerated for drug-related charges, 456,000 of them are locked up for nonviolent crimes, such as possession charges.

You may think possession doesn’t carry too long of a sentence but The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law reported otherwise. Their research showed that many possession charges result in a jail sentence of a year or longer. People battling drug addiction are at risk when simply carrying drugs. Possession could easily result in a charge of a year or more.

This means people struggling with drug addiction find themselves not only locked up but locked up for months or years at a time. Then once they end up in the system they’re at risk for increased sentence time with every additional charge. Turning drug addiction into a legal matter makes it more challenging to overcome the problem.

Jail Environments Do Little to Encourage Sobriety

Additionally, there are very few resources in terms of treatment within the jail and prison systems. People who come into jail under the influence have little access to proper medical attention. They often end up spending the course of their detox period without much medical support for their drug withdrawal symptoms.

The American Public Health Association revealed that only 11 percent of those struggling with addiction receive treatment while behind bars. If little to nothing is done to address their reason for arrest in the first place, how will that keep them from ending up in jail again?

Sending individuals with substance use disorders to jail does little to help them get or stay clean. Jail isn’t the best environment for someone who is trying to quit using drugs. There are still ways to find most drugs behind bars. Most people with addiction problems will simply find their substance of choice while in jail and continue using. 

Convicting someone on drug-related charges also leaves them with a criminal record that makes post-lockup life more difficult. Overcoming addiction is challenging enough; adding a record will only make it more difficult to reintegrate into society. Adding more barriers to finding things like employment and housing makes it harder to quit.

jail vs rehab

Drug Rehab: An Effective Alternative

Jail sentences are more likely to keep people trapped in the cycle of addiction rather than get them out of it. On the other hand, court-ordered treatment programs are another option for those facing drug-related charges. Instead of incarcerating individuals with substance use disorders, sending them to a drug rehab program is a far more effective solution.

Drug rehab programs exist for the sole purpose of helping people separate from drugs and alcohol. Treatment facilities are equipped with the appropriate resources to aid those looking to leave substances behind and develop a new way of life.

If a person is truly interested in trying to quit using drugs, they’ll make use of their time in an addiction treatment program. Sending them to a rehab facility rather than jail or prison is a more proactive solution. They’ll be surrounded by the support that will set them up on the track to a life of recovery.

Drug Rehab vs. Incarceration

Spending time behind bars does little to support those with substance use disorders. It only provides a “time-out” before releasing them back to their environment without any tools to help them stay away from substances. If anything, people often return to their old way of life with a new method to avoid getting caught again.

Some institutions offer programs but they pale in comparison to a dedicated addiction rehab facility. The entire basis of a treatment facility centers around equipping individuals with the tools they need to live life without relying on drugs or alcohol. Jail and prison systems cannot possibly offer the same level of support offered in a drug rehab program.

Another reason rehab is a more effective alternative is the difficulty of finding adequate employment upon release. A criminal record deters many employers from offering someone a job. Offering first-time offenders the option to attend treatment rather than spend time in jail reflects better on their record. They’re more likely to find employment after leaving a treatment center rather than an institution like jail or prison.

Additionally, jails don’t usually provide much of a bridge between time behind bars and reintegrating into the real world. Treatment facilities make a point of helping people transition from the controlled environment of rehab to the chaotic reality of everyday life. Case managers work with clients to provide a clear path to follow after release.

Promoting Recovery for Those at Risk

Sending individuals to drug rehab is a much more positive approach to rehabilitation than locking them up in a correctional facility. They’re more likely to graduate from an addiction program with life skills that will encourage them to reintegrate into society. Treatment teaches people with substance use disorders about the nature of their addiction. Jail does not.

Offering drug-related offenders the option to attend rehab promotes recovery for those most at risk. Rather than pushing them into a system that will more than likely lock them deeper within a cycle of addiction, rehab will provide them with an effective escape from it.

Offenders can use their time in rehab to lay a solid foundation for long-term recovery. They receive the time, support, and resources that give them an adequate opportunity to learn to live sober. They return to society with the ability to support themselves and their families.

If those struggling with substance abuse are immediately incarcerated, their chances of getting sober are slim. But if those individuals receive the chance to attend drug rehab, they’ll find themselves on a path to recovery and away from the chains of addiction.

Rehab vs. Jail Time: The Choice is Clear

Jail is intended to encourage people to change their behavior. If the goal of doing time is to encourage people to change, it’s not an effective approach for people with drug problems. Tacking addicts with a criminal record and putting them behind bars will do little to help their drug problem. 

If quitting drugs was easy there would be no need for treatment facilities. They exist for the specific purpose of helping addicts find and maintain time clean and sober. That’s not to say it’s impossible to quit drugs while in jail but there are far better alternatives. Drug rehab is a much more effective solution for those who receive possession charges. 

Thankfully, the legal system in Pennsylvania is recognizing the importance of drug rehab for addicts. Some receive the option to attend an addiction treatment program as a substitute for jail time. The state wants to reduce the skyrocketing rates of drug abuse, addiction, overdose, and avoidable deaths. Incorporating drug rehab as an option for people with possession charges is a step in the right direction.

Drug Charges in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania, like the Drug Enforcement Administration, splits drugs into separate categories or “schedules”. The particular scheduling of a drug depends on its risk as well as its potential for addiction. Specific charges for drug-related offenses in the state vary based on the category or categories the drugs fall into. More often than not, the harder the drug, the harder the drug charge.

Drug charges in Pennsylvania are usually split into two main categories: simple possession or possession with intent to deliver (PWID). Possession charges refer to anyone charged with carrying drugs. Possession with intent to deliver is a more severe charge for those who are caught with quantities intended for selling. PWID charges come with harsher penalties.

Pennsylvania Drug Possession Offenses

Pennsylvania takes drug possession and PWID charges seriously. The state has a growing problem with hard drug use, often resulting in high numbers of fatal overdoses. Reversing this trend is of primary importance and the drug possession offenses in Pennsylvania reflect that.

The extent of charges again depends on a few different things: 

  • Which class of drug the person is caught with
  • Amount in the person’s possession
  • Whether it’s possession or PWID
  • Number of prior drug-related offenses

For example, Schedule I, II, and III drugs come with the harshest penalties because they’re the most dangerous drugs. These include substances like heroin, meth, opioids, benzodiazepines, cocaine, ecstasy, and LSD. Potential penalties for a first-time charge include a $5,000 fine and up to a year in prison. Then a person with prior offenses will receive heavier penalties.

Again, PWID results in a stiffer charge than a simple possession charge, especially with hard drugs. Pennsylvania has a serious problem with opiates and opioids. People distributing these types of drugs receive some of the strictest charges. Someone caught with the intent to distribute an opiate or opioid could receive up to a $250,000 fine and up to 15 years in prison.

“Drug Delivery Resulting in Death”

The surging rates of deaths due to overdose led prosecutors in Pennsylvania to increase the number of charges for “Drug Delivery Resulting in Death.” Anyone who distributed drugs connected to a drug-related fatality receives the charge. Before the alarming number of fatal overdoses, it was originally classified as a third-degree murder. Today, Drug Delivery Resulting in Death is a first-degree felony in the state of Pennsylvania

Possession of Drug Paraphernalia

It’s not only illegal to possess drugs themselves but drug paraphernalia is illegal as well. Any paraphernalia found on a person results in additional charges on top of any penalties for drug possession. Paraphernalia charges usually result in up to a $2,500 fine and up to a year of jail time.

Seeking Sobriety Before It’s Too Late

The best way to avoid the problem of rehab vs. jail time is to seek sobriety before reaching that point. Drug rehab programs in Pennsylvania, such as Peace Valley Recovery, provide a path to recovery and wellness. Through a combination of counseling, therapy, holistic wellness, and sober activities, these facilities show addicts how to live life drug-free.

Are you looking for drug rehab in Pennsylvania? Reach out to Peace Valley Recovery today. We’re here to walk you out of the cycle of addiction and into a lasting life of recovery. You never need to turn back to drugs and you never need to feel alone again. We’re here to help. Give us a call today.

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