April 12, 2013 | Falmouth Enterprise
By Jeff Perry, Barnstable County Special Sheriff
To reach my office at the Barnstable County Correctional Facility (BCCF), I pass through the visitor's lobby. This area is where family members wait to visit their loved ones who are incarcerated. To counter any stereotypes, the folks waiting to visit their spouse, child or grandchild in jail come from every socioeconomic background. They live in every town and every neighborhood. Every race, age, income level and family background is sitting in these seats.
Substance Abuse and Crime
In my role at the Sheriff's Office I speak with many of these visitors and I find that there are some common themes. Sadly, a high percentage of BCCF inmates are incarcerated for crimes related to the abuse of drugs and/or alcohol. Our statistics show about 80% of inmates are in jail for crimes related to substance abuse. Obviously, there are the incarcerated drug dealers and repeat drunk drivers, but the problem goes much deeper.
We have a significant number of inmates who are in jail for property crimes, such as breaking and entering, larceny or receiving stolen property. Often times, these crimes were committed to secure funds to feed a drug addiction. Crimes of violence, including assaults and domestics are often a direct result of people being under the influence and making bad choices.
Individuals and Families in Denial
While there is no denying that drug and alcohol use is the most significant factor leading to incarceration, unfortunately there is plenty of "denial" among individuals, family members and our communities regarding the addiction problems we face on Cape Cod. The first step in recovery for an individual, family or community to take with drug and alcohol problems is to admit the problem exists and to realize its magnitude.
One would think that inmates who find themselves locked up might finally admit they have a problem; however, many times this is not the case. Sadly, almost every day I speak with inmates, family members or folks in the community, who in the face of overwhelming evidence deny the serious and growing problems of drug and alcohol addiction.
Communities in Denial
Not unlike an individual who is in denial, the same can be said about a community in denial. In the face of rising crime, drug overdoses, and objective studies indicating that our children are using illegal drugs and alcohol at a younger and younger age, many still deny we have a problem.
For our communities to address the growing substance abuse issues, we need to have an honest discussion and develop public policies with our limited resources. It costs approximately $40,000 to keep a person in jail for one year. Because of the denial of an individual's own addiction and society's denial of the impact of substance abuse, far too many end up in jail before the problem is recognized.
Know the Signs of Abuse and Addiction
It can be difficult to admit having a drug problem and seeking treatment can be intimidating and overwhelming. Knowing the signs of addiction can help you recognize addiction in yourself, a friend or a family member.
While certainly not a complete list, some generalized signs of drug and alcohol use include changes in work or school attendance; unusual outbreaks of temper; withdrawal from responsibility; deterioration of physical appearance; association with known substance abusers; borrowing money; stealing from employer or family member; and, attempts to avoid attention and suspicion, such as frequent trips to the bathroom or other isolated areas.
Individuals who are suffering from an addiction are confronted often deny the drug or alcohol use. Substance abusers often blame others for the negative things that happen in their lives, and lie about where they have been and what they have been doing. Their addiction convinces them that despite the loss of employment, family and friends, they do not have a problem. They say that if only they had more money or if the people in their lives would understand them that everything would be okay. Very rarely will someone with a serious addiction problem confront their addiction by themselves. They do not acknowledge or connect the fact that their substance abuse has become the root cause of their current problems. This is the very definition of "denial."
It is my hope that you become more aware of those around you who may be in denial, including individuals, families, and other members of your community.
Barnstable County Sheriffs Office: Access information about the Sheriff's Office and the various services it provides for our Cape community.
Jeff Perry is a member of the Falmouth Prevention Partnership Steering Committee.