Earlier this week, we mentioned that September was National Alcohol & Drug Addiction Recovery Month. The same day our post went up, Seattle's Recovery Café hosted its annual "Standing in the Gap" fundraising breakfast. The Café's work points to important lessons for our lawmakers.
The phrase "standing in the gap" comes from the Old Testament. According to the prophet Ezekiel, God said, "I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none." This has been interpreted as a call for prophets to intercede with an angry, punishing God on behalf of the people of the world. A more modern interpretation is a call for each of us to participate in intercessory prayer on behalf of others - to ask specifically for God to step in and help a neighbor, a community, or a nation.
Recovery Café interprets standing in the gap as creating a community that fills the divide between the "economically rich and poor members of the human family," specifically by serving men and women traumatized by homelessness, addiction, and mental health challenges who need support in choosing and managing their recovery.
The Café provides its members individual recovery plans; classes in issues like anger management, grief and loss, expressive art, self-confidence, spiritual growth, and communication; and referral to resources for housing, employment, and drug and alcohol treatment services. An important feature of membership is participation in a Recovery Circle - an accountability group of three to seven members who meet at least once a week to support one another in their recovery journeys. It's an example of the social support that the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration identifies as a key component of achieving and maintaining recovery from addiction.
Recovery Café opened its doors in January 2004 and has managed to keep them open ever since with no public funding.
The Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP), at the direction of the legislature, performed a cost-benefit analysis of evidence-based treatment programs and found that per dollar of cost, such programs generate about $3.77 in overall benefits for people in Washington (including benefits received by participants such as increased earnings), and, more narrowly, $2.05 of benefits accruing directly to taxpayers. Total net benefits that would accrue to Washington from serving just half of the current population needing treatment would be about $1.5 billion, or $416 million from the narrower taxpayer-only perspective.
WSIPP also has pointed out to the legislature that "[s]ince the early 1980s, policymakers in Washington and other states have turned to incarceration as the primary public policy to combat crime and administer justice." In 1980, the adult prison incarceration rate in Washington was 2.3 per 1,000 18- to 49-year-olds. By 2002, the rate was 5.5, big increase of 137%. The local jail incarceration rate increased by a whopping 184% over the same period. In 1980, the average daily population of drug offenders incarcerated in Washington was 140; by 2001, it had skyrocketed to 3,280. And according to WSIPP, "During the 1990s, the economic bottom line for increasing the incarceration rate for drug offenders turned negative. That is, it now costs taxpayers more to incarcerate additional drug-involved offenders than the average value of the crimes avoided." Additionally, "We find that, today, some research-based and well-implemented rehabilitation and prevention programs can produce better returns for the taxpayer's dollar than prison expansion. For example, some drug treatment programs give taxpayers a better return than increasing the incarceration rate for drug-involved offenders."
As Washington's legislators prepare for another brutal budget session, let's hope they make choices that reflect both the effectiveness of supporting, rather than punishing, our most vulnerable community members, and the wise stewardship of our tax dollars. May they choose to stand in the gap.