Lauren Johnson on struggling with addiction: “I needed treatment … not another jail sentence”

May 15, 2024

Lauren Johnson (Leading with Conviction™ 2016) writes at The Progressive:

“I’ve been to prison three times, but everyone — including me — thought that my second time would be my last. I had just learned I was pregnant a few days before I was incarcerated for drug possession. I spent my entire pregnancy in jail and gave birth to my first child there. We had two days together before I was separated from him and sent back to my cell. Leaving my baby was a grief that I never wanted to endure again.

I needed treatment, support, and accountability — not another jail sentence.

“I married my son’s father, had two more children, and bought a home. I did everything in my power to do the right thing; from the outside looking in, I had successfully re-entered society. But under the surface, I still needed help. Five years later, I relapsed and was arrested for trace amounts — a felony in Texas — and was separated from my children once again.

“I didn’t meet the standard definition of recidivism because I wasn’t arrested again within three years, but I was actually at risk all along. I simply didn’t have access to the services I needed to sustain a life of sobriety. I needed treatment, support, and accountability — not another jail sentence.

“Unfortunately, my story is not uncommon, especially for those who struggle with addiction. Instead of defining recidivism as an individual’s likelihood of returning to criminal behavior, we should see it as a chance for rehabilitation and empowerment. Successful reintegration should not be measured by a lack of arrests but by the opportunity for human flourishing. …

“Adopting a wider approach to understanding arrest and conviction data is needed to accurately assess how the criminal justice system impacts individuals and their families over time. Metrics like employment, housing stability, access to healthcare, support networks, and personal well-being help to identify gaps in reintegration efforts. If we can adequately address these gaps, the risks are significantly reduced.

“One way to do this is through creating wraparound programs that offer services like education, vocational training, financial counseling, mentorship and recovery support based on an individual’s unique needs, including underlying struggles like mental health and addiction as well as socioeconomic challenges.

“Employers also have a role to play by giving formerly incarcerated individuals a fair chance at securing jobs that provide a sense of purpose and meet their financial needs. When running background checks, employers should assess the risk of recidivism using the reset principle so candidates are evaluated at the time of the background check, not at the time of conviction. These individuals deserve to be fully recognized for their progress and potential, and protected from assumptions that hinder their shot at a stable future.”

Read the full op-ed at


(Photo: Enrique Huaiquil / JustLeadershipUSA; Lauren Johnson, middle)

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