Globe Editorial: If addiction is a disease, why does the probation system treat relapses as a crime?

The revolving door of court-treatment-prison has to stop.

By The Editorial Board Updated December 3, 2023, 4:00 a.m.

Someone commits a petty crime — theft, say — to feed an addiction and is put on probation. The judge orders them into treatment and says not to take drugs or drink alcohol.

But kicking a drug habit isn’t something that people with substance use disorder just do. It’s a medical intervention. Success isn’t guaranteed. Relapses happen.

The question for the state should be, is it really appropriate to imprison probationers if they experience a relapse but are otherwise obeying the terms of their probation and staying out of trouble? At the least, judges and the probation system need to embrace a flexible approach that recognizes the difference between a relapse that doesn’t truly endanger others — and one that does.

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