By Evelyn Robinson
In the past few weeks, several news sources have released information on a recent study that was conducted in West Virginia that showed promise in the suggestion that substance abuse treatment programs could help to alleviate the overcrowding issues that have long plagued the American criminal justice system. The study pointed to evidence that rehabilitation programs offered during parole, probation, or even in the absence of jail time could help to lower crime rates and keep prisons from reaching maximum capacity due to the prevalence of drug-related convictions in recent years. However, while the pros to this controversial new idea may seem plenty, the cons are quickly proving to be potentially disastrous.
A recent 2012 Government Accountability Office report declared that although drug offenders are the single-largest category of prisoners in the federal prison system, in 2011, more than 51,000 were held on waiting lists for basic drug-education programs, which could help to facilitate early release and work towards rehabilitation. The problem is heavily budget-related, with many states claiming that wait lists are a direct by-product of the inability to keep a full rehabilitation program staffed as well as the ever-increasing issue of overcrowded facilities.
Led by a growing population of prisoners facing drug problems upon entry, several states such as Texas, California, and Kansas have begun to call for reforms that place higher importance on substance abuse and critical rehabilitation programs outside the prison walls. Faced with a shrinking state budget, Kansas became one of the pioneers of the effort as it has taken several steps within the past five years to reduce prison populations by diverting non-violent criminals to cheaper treatment and probation centers that stress job training rather than sentencing them to jail time for their offenses.
Analysts have widely supported the notion of overhauling the treatment of drug-related offenders as other states with similar budget and population issues have quickly followed suite. Even Texas, a state notorious for handing out the harshest penalties possible, has begun making dramatic changes to its state criminal justice system. Texas State Senator John Whitmore, Democratic chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, cites evidence of the plans success with the states dramatic decrease in overall prisoners, stating that the federal government should consider reinstating parole amending mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug-related crimes.
Why it could be Dangerous:
Although it remains true that many drug-related crimes may in fact be non-violent, many critics of the supposed revolutionary new procedures point to disturbing cases of snowballed violence that stems from these same crimes. For example, Sheriff Joe Carpenter of West Virginia, responded to the state’s recent study with a question of who should be held responsible for instances of violence that stem from drug addiction if not the seller. He made the argument that while a drug dealer may not be shooting a man, he may be aiding in the destruction of the buyer’s claim to humanity, which is arguably just as violent an act as one that may lead to an actual prison sentence versus a stint in rehab, followed by probation.
Other examples are even more harrowing. On December 10th, the Los Angeles Country district attorney’s office admitted that prosecutors mistakenly allowed a man that has now been accused of fatally shooting four people to receive drug treatment rather than serving time in prison. The man, Ka Pasasouk, was on probation this fall when he was arrested and charged with possession of an illegal narcotic. Prosecutors originally recommended he serve time in prison in light of his already dauntingly long criminal record. However, Pasasouk was eligible for treatment rather than time under the drug diversion program of Proposition 36, which changed the requirements of the “three strikes law” to mandate that the third “strike” be deemed a violent or serious felony.
The lesson here is obvious: although Ka Pasasouk may have been committing what some would call “non-violent” under the new laws of several states attempting to reform their budgets, Pasasouk was a clearly dangerous man. Prior to his fall arrest, Pasasouk had been arrested numerous times since 2004 for charges ranging from methamphetamine possession to assault likely to cause great bodily injury. While drug treatment may well have been in his personal best interest, keeping a man capable of dangerous and perhaps fatal crimes out of prison should not be the result of state budget cuts.
(Note: Evelyn Robinson is a new contributor at Right Truth)