South Bend, Indiana Mayor and presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg unveiled “Healing and Belonging in America,” his sweeping plan to decriminalize all drug possession and focus on recovery instead of incarceration.
Buttigieg wants to decriminalize drugs, because data suggests that America’s current system of imprisoning drug offenders doesn’t actually lower addiction rates. According to data compiled by the Pew Research Center, increasing imprisonment to control drug addiction issues doesn’t solve the problem. Buttigieg mentioned similar research suggesting that “incarceration for drug offenses has no effect on drug misuse, drug arrests, or overdose deaths,” and “actually increases the rate of overdose deaths.” Recidivism happens when criminals learn additional bad behaviors in prison—and they often continue to find ways to get drugs inside prison walls.
In order to try another approach that might actually work, the mayor developed and revealed some of his own ideas. The former U.S. Naval Reserve officer highlighted his proposal to “decriminalize mental illness and addiction through diversion, treatment, and re-entry programs, decreasing the number of people incarcerated due to mental illness or substance use by 75 percent in the first term.” Under his plan, non-possession-related drug charges would be retroactively reduced or expunged.
The plan would involve eliminating incarceration for drug possession and reduce sentences for drug offenses. “To ensure that people with a mental illness or substance use disorder can heal,” Buttigieg wrote, “we will decriminalize these conditions.”
Our country is in the midst of a mental health and addiction crisis, worsened by decades of stigma and political neglect. I’ll bring a new approach, rooted in commitment and community, to tackle this crisis with the urgency it deserves. https://t.co/spBoh5KH4X
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) August 23, 2019
He also proposed increasing availability to naloxone, which can reverse opioid overdoses, and increasing accessibility to syringe exchange programs. According to National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid-related drug overdoses in America have skyrocketed over the past 20 years.
In Buttigieg’s earlier plan, “The Douglass Plan,” named after black American hero Frederick Douglass, he already outlined legalizing cannabis (and its surrounding disparate policies) and dismantling “racist structures” that prevent Black Americans from success in today’s world. According to TIME, Mayor Buttigieg is the first openly gay man to enter the presidential race and make it to the debate stage. His drug reform plan may be equally as pivotal.