Many of us have been saying for years that we are not going to arrest our way out of our nation's drug problem, so I totally support the change of philosophy and policy about sentencing certain drug offenders ("Minimal reform on mandatory sentencing," Aug. 14). I would like to caution both the public and our criminal justice system that just changing sentencing policies does not mean we have solved anything.

As a former addict, I can tell you that most low level drug dealers are also addicted to drugs themselves. Their dealing is usually done to maintain their own habits. So if we are going change how we prosecute this population, we have to provide an alternative to incarceration, and that's long term mandatory treatment with follow up monitoring through drug testing.

Many politicians including U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder have said that the savings from not incarcerating these offenders can go to increase drug treatment. We have heard this promise from government before, and the money never goes to treatment. We raised the alcohol tax in Maryland and never increased alcohol treatment. So while I am encouraged about the talk about treatment rather than incarceration, I am truly worried that these addicted offenders will be back on the street committing more crimes until they become repeat offenders.

Let's remember that we emptied out our mental institutions back in the 1980s and never provided enough community based programs, creating an epidemic of homeless, mentally ill people. Lets not make the same mistake.

Mike Gimbel, Timonium

The writer is the former Baltimore County Drug Czar.