Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Community corrections an investment in future

Decatur Daily

Community corrections an investment in future

Alabama does not have a prison problem. It has a crime problem.

Rather than building more and bigger prisons — or spending money to study the state's prison-crowding situation one more time — Alabama should revamp its sentencing guidelines to get non-violent offenders treatment and rehabilitation.

A report released Monday points out that drug-related offenses made up 31 percent of state prison admissions in 2004 — nearly twice the number of robbery, murder, rape and manslaughter entries combined, according to figures supplied by the Alabama Sentencing Commission.

Between 1999 and 2004, prison admissions for drug and alcohol offenses increased by 21 percent, while admissions for crimes against persons fell 14 percent.

Alabama lawmakers will consider a series of sentencing reform bills when the 2006 regular session convenes.

Gov. Bob Riley's task force on prison overcrowding has recommended reducing the prison population by alternative means of punishment, including transition centers, community corrections and drug-treatment programs.

Lawmakers would be wise to heed those recommendations.

We certainly don't advocate the legalization of marijuana, as announced gubernatorial candidate Loretta Nall has proposed. But community drug-treatment and rehabilitation programs make more sense than assigning pot possessors to prison beds.

Drug-treatment programs are expensive. But incarceration costs more in the long run.

Nor do community corrections programs work 100 percent of the time. Some who complete rehabilitation programs eventually return to illegal drug use. Often, addicts return to treatment several times before successfully kicking their habits.

Rehabilitation must be a goal of any criminal justice program. Locking up non-violent drug offenders together and with other criminals has proven ineffective in reducing recidivism.

Why change? The most compelling reason is that what the state has done historically hasn't worked. Our prisons keep overflowing.

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