by David Williams, HNN Freelance Correspondent

I was at the magistrate court today and witnessed how the drug epidemic is affecting crime and sentencing.  It is hard to tell  at first glance how the results of these cases will turn out, because only time will tell the true results.


There was a habitual criminal with at least thirty priors and at least one violent crime conviction that was charged with breaking and entering.  The lawyer first told the man it looked like he would have a choice between a one to ten in jail or a year in rehab.  The man was not very happy with the choice.  He claimed innocence and did not feel like rehab was a viable choice to him.  Now in his late thirties, he said he had been in places, mainly jail since he was 24.  He did not see how rehab would suddenly help him now.  He has never been in a rehab.

Suddenly, he received the news that he would have a choice between 28 days at Prestera and a year in jail.  Of course, he signed up with 28 days at Prestera.  I am mixed here.  I feel positive because this man has battled substance abuse for most of his adult life... BUT he has never been treated for chemical dependence.  It would be wonderful if this has been what he needed all along.  If his sudden exposure to recovery can help him then his life will be a lot better and the community a lot safer. BUT if he does not take it seriously then he will be back to his old habits in about a month.  True, in the long run he will be the one dealing with the consequences….BUT what about the community who has him back on the streets with the strong possibility he will continue his lawbreaking ways? 


Another case saw a 27 year-old girl who has struggled with addiction since her teen years.  She has never been  arrested for a felony but does have a few drug related misdemeanors.  Her felony appearance is for transferring and receiving stolen goods.  She tried to pawn an item that she claims she was not aware that it had been stolen.  There seems to be a possibility that the case goes deeper. There is a possibility that she has ties to a string of car break-ins downtown, although she denies this and denies that she has problems with addiction.... although she has prior drug-related arrests and four previous stays in rehabs the last five years in which she signed herself out after a few days.  The evidence that she is involved with this is not strong enough to convict her.

She received and accepted a plea bargain to enter a 9 month addiction program at Recovery Point in Charleston.  This is a good chance for her to get a second chance.  She has not held a regular job but perhaps after a 9 month stay at rehab she may finally conquer her addictions and live a normal live


Drug court and sentencing like this can help drug addicts break the chains of addiction and pull their lives out of the ashes.  I really would have felt more positive if the man charged with breaking and entering would have been given at least a 90 day stay.  A 28 day stay to break so many years of addiction does not seem like enough.


Our jails and prisons are quite full and it has been proven that addicts are not getting treatment for their addictions while in jail.  Many are returning to the streets and returning to drug use.  It is one of society's few hopes that if we are to ever make our streets safer we must treat our criminals addictions and reduce the likelihood that they will return to jail.  If we do not attempt to alter the behavior that lead these people to jail, then we can only expect to see that behavior continue.


I spoke with a magistrate who says he has seen positive results.  He speaks how one man changed his life and went out of his way to return to the courthouse and thank him for receiving the chance to better his life.  I know both of the people involved in today's cases.  It is easy for me to say that the man charged with breaking and entering will be in trouble soon.  I say that because I know his past.  BUT is it fair for me to say that?  Will our society not be a better place if we can give people who have made mistakes and corrected their behaviors.  Does he not deserve a chance at recovery and a good life just because he has multiple infractions?  These are the type of questions our judicial system must study and answer.  It is answers to questions like these that will determine how safe our society is in the next decade and if we can defeat the drug epidemic.


Many of our communities have come to conclusion since the start of the drug epidemic that we can not arrest ourselves out of the drug epidemic.  It is imperative that addicted criminals receive either stays in rehab or extensive recovery while in jail or prison.  Just being away from the drugs does not give them the coping skills to stay away from drugs once they return to the streets.  They need to understand there only addictions so they can help break the chain of those addictions.  Without giving these people the training or chance at skill development in these areas, we are setting them up for future failures.

It is obvious that the drug epidemic does not offer any easy solutions.  We have to try to step out of the box and try solutions that may not have sounded practical a couple of decades ago.  We have started down the road of treating the epidemic as a social problem or mental illness and I think we must continue down that road....but we must keep a good record of the cases and research the results so that we can possible come back and tinker with the new system in a few years.