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Scott Colom: Drug court helps taxpayers, society

 

Scott Colom

 

Last week, Circuit Court Judge Lee Howard presented plans for a drug court in Judicial District 16, which includes Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Noxubee and Clay counties. Drug court allows drug addicts and abusers (not dealers) to receive rehabilitative services instead of prison time. The drug court includes three to five years of intense drug rehabilitation, such as counseling and drug testing, court supervision, and education and employment assistance. This new approach is a free market strategy to decrease drug use and has the potential to save millions of tax dollars for Mississippians.  

 

Since the Nixon administration declared a "war on drugs," the state and federal government''s approach to drug use has been to attack the supply of illegal drugs. This has mostly consisted of high arrest and incarceration rates for drug abuse and aid to other countries to stop foreign traffickers. Forty years later, the evidence shows this strategy failed to curb drug use. The number of illicit drug users has steadily risen and is currently estimated at 21.8 million. Decreases in the use of cocaine and heroin have been replaced with increases in use of prescription drugs, ecstasy and methamphetamine.  

 

While drug use has not declined over this time, incarceration rates and the tax dollars required to enforce drug laws increased dramatically. Incarceration rates have risen by more than 300 percent over the last 40 years - America currently has the highest incarceration rate in the world - and the bulk of this increase is the result of convictions for non-violent, drug offenses. To support the additional police, prosecutors, security guards, and prisons necessary for this increase, the government has spent more than 2.5 trillion tax dollars, with the state of Mississippi spending hundreds of millions.  

 

Yet, recent studies have demonstrated that reducing the demand for illegal drugs - a free market approach - is more cost effective. Most people convicted of drug possession are drug addicts and have high recidivism rates. Focusing on the demand for illegal drugs, rather than trying to stop the supply, addresses the addiction that causes the crime. The less people are addicted to drugs, the less drug addicts there are to arrest or re-arrest. Reducing the demand for drugs also decreases the supply, which means there are less drug dealers destroying communities and less tax money needed to fight them.  

 

For example, Texas has recently taken steps to fight drug use with more community based treatment and the results have been a reduction in the prison population and billions of dollars in projected savings for tax payers. For those that believe focusing more on rehabilitation will increase crime, the crime rate has dropped ten percent since Texas implemented these reforms. Therefore, by taking a free market approach, Texas was able to spend less on prisons and increase public safety.  

 

Over the next 10 years, a drug court in Judicial District 16 has the potential to save millions of tax dollars. As judge Howard recently pointed out, 80 percent of all crimes committed in Mississippi are drug related. It costs around $16 million a year to incarcerate people in Lowndes County, and this doesn''t include the millions in other costs associated with incarceration. Rehabilitation isn''t perfect - Judge Howard reported that around 40 percent of the participants in the drug court successfully complete the program - but successfully rehabilitating four out of 10 drug users will decrease recidivism, the taxes spent incarcerating addicts and the number of drug dealers.  

 

Predictably, certain people are not going to approve of any rehabilitative approach to drug use. They will demagogue it as "soft" on crime, ignoring the fact that drug use is mostly a crime against one''s family and one''s self. They may argue we should decrease prison spending by taking away luxuries for prisoners, like food and beds. They may say sending all drug users to jail makes them feel safe, despite the evidence that incarcerating drug users does not increase public safety. Before deciding whether to believe those arguments or whether to give the drug court a chance, remember the trillions of tax dollars spent fighting the "war on drugs" and ask yourself one question: What have we won? 

 

Scott Colom is a local attorney. His e-mail address is colomsw@gmail.com.

 

Scott Colom is a local attorney.

 

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Reader Comments

Article Comment zenreaper commented at 5/26/2011 1:10:00 AM:

We could save even more money by ceasing this INSISTANCE that drugs are bad for you and we, as Americans, are too stupid to decide what to do with our own bodies. This country RUNS on drugs. Why, Scott, I would bet that you, yourself are a drug addict. Don't believe me? Do you need a cup of coffee in the morning? Maybe a cigarette? Perhaps a cold beer? All of these are DRUGS. Pop an aspirin when you got an ache, chug a "5 Hour Energy" when your sleepy. Shouldn't have eaten that extra helping of pasta and sauce? Pop a pepcid.Kid won't pay attention in school? Hit em with Adderal or Ritlin. Can't stay away from the fatty foods and don't wanna exercise? Try a Lipitor.

We bombard children everyday with TV messages about these and a thousand other legal drugs, then expect them to listen when we tell them to "Just say no to drugs".

Bottom line, changing your consciousness or relaxing by chemical means has been shown to JUST as high on the "drive" list as food and sex. So LEGALIZE all of it, and this way the habitual user who WANTS to stop can seek out help without the fear of legal reprecussions.

And yes, I said ALL drugs. Pot, coke, heroin, meth, LSD, EVERYTHING. And before you say it will increase use, tell me Scott, if HEROIN were legal, would you use it? No? Then what makes you think anyone else would START just because it is legal? And those that WANT it? Well, their not really having a hard time getting it, are they?

 

Article Comment ckirby commented at 5/26/2011 6:31:00 AM:

Zen, that sounds like the standard liberal drug spin. Comparing crack cocaine, ICE and meth to aspirin and coffee is like the Clarion-Ledger's years old comparing of licensed concealed carry citizens to gun wielding muggers and robbers.
I can drink coffee and take an aspirin and still drive a vehicle without endangering other people or violating the rights of other citizens through illegal action while UI. Apples and oranges.
I support laws that ban the sale of illegal drugs to minors and teens, within certain distances of schools and I abhor the use of UI defense in crimes of rape, murder, child molestation and abuse, DV and other violent crimes. Usually, the same proponents of repealing drug laws are proponents of such criminal defense arguments. Repealing laws that mandate personal accountability while promoting an agenda of no personal accountability is not rational, but it is a sign of the times.
I might support the legalization of certain drugs if the supporters of legalization were to agree that drug use is not a defense to violating the rights, health and safety of other humans. If you choose to take a drug and you harm or injure another person, you accept personal responsibility for the consequences for the decisions you make. Oh, and any sales or providing of drugs to minors is a mandatory life sentence. I'd prefer a death sentence, but I'd settle for revoking citizenship, deportation or spending the rest of ones life in prison. So far, I haven't found a proponent of liberal drug laws who will agree to that deal.

 

Article Comment zenreaper commented at 5/27/2011 12:53:00 AM:

ckirby, you would be surprised to find out that I am a libertarian with right leaning conservative ideas. No liberal ideas here. I find it interesting that you want these drugs outlawed because of people who have broken the law while under the influence of them. Then you go on to say you don't want them used as an excuse. But isn't that what you are doing? And on top of that, aren't you "punishing" (by denying them the right to choose) someone for ANOTHER person's choice? That is downright unAmerican, LOL.

Now consider this, not ONLY do I consider under the influence as NOT an excuse for ANYTHING, I think DRIVING under the influence should be treated HARSHER than it already is. A drunk driver has VOLUNTARILY ingested a DRUG, gotten into a car and operated a DEADLY weapon. But because someone either beat their wife, or hurt a child, or some other ALREADY ILLEGAL ACT, under the influence, you support the government coming INTO my home, when I have commited NO crime, and stopping me from, say, smoking a joint on my couch. I have harmed no one, I have committed not crime outside of the possession of a PLANT, yet I am a "criminal".

If you commit a crime, you should be arrested. You should be tried, and if convicted, given a sentence comiserate with the offense. But to just MAKE UP crimes, for the sole purpose of CONTROL is ridiculous.

 

Article Comment ckirby commented at 5/28/2011 8:47:00 PM:

Zen, when it comes to drugs, you sound a lot like Walter, only more articulate.
"But isn't that what you are doing?"
Nope. Read below.
"And on top of that, aren't you "punishing" (by denying them the right to choose) someone for ANOTHER person's choice? That is downright unAmerican, LOL."
You'll have to dumb that down for me because I have no idea what that means.
Maybe this will help; I am a die-hard believer in the castle concept. I don't care what you do in the privacy of your own home or on your own property or what consenting adults you do it with, as long as what you do doesn't put me or mine in danger of our health or safety (such as a meth lab or making ricin or anthrax).
So IF you decide to get jiggy with some crystal, pot, ice, horse, blow or make your own 'shine on your own property, I don't care. What I do care about is if you or anyone does get busy with their drug of choice, then decides to get in the old ride, get on a public road and hit a family of four headon and kill all of them. Or break into the house on the next block over and kill the elderly widow. Then, when it's time to accept personal responsibility for your actions, you whine to the judge and jury that you couldn't help yourself, that the drugs made you do it. If the crime's heinous enough, a crowd of low life lawyers fly into town and represent you free of charge, trying to pull an O.J. That's what I don't like.
I'm a civil libertarian as long as you are on your own property and aren't harming another human, but once you venture outside the holy sanctity of your castle domain, you are in the public domain and nothing trumps the public welfare and safety. Being under the influence is no excuse for harming another person, violating their rights and endangering their health and safety.
FYI, when I say you, I mean everybody as individuals. I hope that explains my opinion and what I believe. You won't find anybody more hard core when it comes to the castle concept or the concept of personal accountability.

 

Article Comment zenreaper commented at 5/29/2011 3:00:00 PM:

I agree that if you violate the law, you should pay for it. And there are laws on the books to punish those who operate a vehicle under the influence, or who commit a crime. So take away the "excuse", I agree with you. But the POSSESSION laws are doing EXACTLY what you say you are against. If I have a bag of weed in my pocket, and get caught with it, I go to jail, even if I only have it in my pocket so I can go home and use in in my "castle".

FTR, the OJ case had NOTHING to do with anyone being under the influence of anything. And I have never heard of a case where a drug was used as an excuse for a person getting away with a crime. I would be willing to LOOK at such a case, i have just never seen one.

 

Article Comment walter commented at 5/29/2011 9:12:00 PM:

Kudos to Scott, Judge Howard and The Dispatch! No where has there been a more concise and thorough explanation of the benefit of trying a new appraoch than what was written and published in The Dispatch. I applaud Mr. Imes for his courage in daring to feature a brillant writer and a sincere man. Together, you will lead us into our brighter future! You have definitely pointed the way. If judge Howard would exercise his power and influence after years on the bench, like Nixon going to China, we can minimixe the harmful effects of cocaine on individuals, families and society, if not ending the scourge altogether.

Great article Scott. You do us proud, Brother!!!!!

 

Article Comment walter commented at 5/30/2011 5:41:00 PM:

Damn, Zen and Ckirby! You fellow sound a lot more intelligent and progressive than I had heretofore realized. Brother CKirby, whats wrong with brother Zen and I finding common ground on such a vitally important issue impacting us all. The important thing is that we're both genuinely interested in helping to find solutions to the problem(s), instead of perpetuating them.

And, yes, it does appear that Zen (and probably everyone else who posts here) is much more articulate than yours truly. However, if I were you, I wouldn't stake my life on it. I'm hurried most of the time when I post, including this very instance. I have time, though to write this; I hope Mr. Imes extend a very long-term and mutually beneficial contract to his incredibly-gifted writer, Mr. Scott, before he or one of his other trust-worthy advisors advise him to syndicate. I would hope that Mr. Imes, with his years of experience, wisdom and tremendous integrity and genuine love for our hometown would even allow Mr. Colom to submit an editorial, every now and then. Of course, with Mr. Imes advise and consent. I really think it would enhance the paper and attract even more top-flight subscribers. I know it would speed us on the road to our rightful role as the leading and most progressive city and county in the entire state.

Imagine, if you would, what it would do for the state, if the elected-officials in Jackson had the foresight to boldly and unequivocally declare that the current laws respecting drugs is repealed. To be replaced with ones that attack the disease, rather than the diseased (or addicts). Of course, there would be adequate provisions made to ease the transitions of those with vested-interests in maintaining the status quo into new careers. I believe pliceman can be trained to perform other functions within our society. I believe those who construct prisons and jails can also build schools and senior citizens vilages; bail bondsmen and guards can also be retrained to perform other useful functions that benefit society, too. Of course, we want need as many judges and court-appointed-attorneys, either. As intelligent as that class of citizens are, they can surely find other vocations and more easily fend for themselves. But, until they do, the statae should provide them a generous stipend for a reasonable period of time.

Again, I would hope that my beloved state would seize the moment and lead for once in an area where the whole world knows that a grave injustice has been done in the area of the so-called on war on drugs. Lead the way Mississippians in correcting it. And, i do not mean legalizing drugs that aren't already legal. I mean, repeal the law that, in effect, relegate those accused or convicted, to a permanent status of second class citizens. It hurts society, as whole, to have so many among us classed as such. So that there will be no misunderstanding about my motive, make the law applicable to all exept those who were convicted and hwo, at the time, held at least two academic degrees. The latter one eliminate the writer and would also take into consideration that those with degrees, despite the difficulty, could still get by, whether classified felons or not.

One thing is for certain, we need more courageous and much more scrupoluus and independent minds working on finding a solution than those who have been charged with doing so for tha past 40 years. In closing, I pose one question: Doesn't it make sense to fire those who have failed to win a war after billions of dollars and 4 decades have been spent waging it by them? At least try soemthing fresh and different!

 

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