Incarcerating our way out of the substance use epidemic does not and will not work. I know this as a woman in long-term recovery who has worked for over a decade as a substance use treatment provider. Incarceration creates significant obstacles to recovery and contributes to the substance use pandemic facing our state. That’s why I support LD 967, Rep. Anne Perry’s efforts to restructure drug sentencing laws to focus on access to treatment and support services.
When individuals are able to meet their basic needs such as housing, food security, warmth, safety and human connection, they are more successful in their recoveries. Incarcerating people creates barriers to recovery success by making it harder for people to meet these needs.
In my own recovery, positive relationships with treatment providers, community members and employers helped me find stable housing, employment and to become someone my children are proud to have parenting them. Now, I work as a treatment provider, and I’m getting my master’s degree in social work. My professional evaluations are respected by child protective service workers, district attorneys and judges. There is nothing miraculous about my journey: I had positive connections and opportunities that allowed me a life beyond my wildest dreams.
All people with substance use disorder deserve the same positive connections and opportunities I’ve had. However, that is not what I see. My clients who have a criminal record because of their substance use often do not make it to the six-month mark of outpatient treatment. Often, those who have experienced lengthy incarcerations not only face barriers to recovery support services; many have severe trauma from these experiences. They need to work through this trauma to feel safe enough to build healthy connections that support their treatment and recovery.
I have lived recovery for two decades and I have worked as a treatment provider for over a decade. Various evidence-based approaches to substance use disorder have the common thread of forming healthy relationships and connections. Criminalization does not assist individuals with substance use disorders to build healthy connections. Instead, it disrupts existing healthy connections and creates barriers to positive connections when access to social supports and treatment are available.
Maine recorded its worst year of overdose deaths in 2020 during the pandemic. This grim milestone re-enforces what those of us in recovery and in the treatment field already know: individuals need to have their basic needs met and access to positive connections to secure and maintain sustained recovery.
I strongly believe LD 967 is a significant step in this direction. It allows accountability without creating barriers for individuals with substance use disorder to access the services they need for sustainable recovery. I urge anybody reading this to support this legislation.
Jamie Corbett, LADC CCS