This past Sunday, former Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. wrote a Washington Post op-ed, in which he said a three-year study of the U.S. prison system had convinced him that too many of the inmates were not criminals, but addicts of one sort or another.
Treating them for their addiction, Califano said, would be a whole lot cheaper than locking them up for years at a time. Apparently, West Virginia officials are intrigued enough by the idea, already in use in Maryland, to give it a limited trial. That's an appropriate way to test a program that will draw automatic opposition from the lock'em-up-and-throw-away-the-key crowd.
What that group forgets - probably because politicians who promise to "get tough on crime" don't remind them - is that it now costs more than $20,000 a year to keep a person behind bars. If the public can be protected and addicts treated at a lower cost, a new approach may be worth a look.