Thursday, March 02, 2006

Give them rehab, not jail, preacher urges

Thursday, March 02, 2006
Huntsville Times
Contact Patricia Mccarter

Forum addresses issue of nonviolent drug offenders

Bob Harrison is a businessman; he doesn't have a background in law enforcement or drug treatment.

But the Madison County commissioner grew interested in drug rehab versus incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders when he studied the county's budget for corrections.

"We spend $15 million every year to lock up 900 people, with most of them drug offenders," Harrison said Wednesday morning at a two-day forum about ex-felons assimilating back into society.

That's more money per person than it would cost to attend a good college, the commissioner said.

"Then when they leave our jail, we give them $14 and a bus ticket," he said.

"Look at the numbers. We here today might not know what will work, but we do know what hasn't. This isn't working."

A man with a scarred face and a minister's collar told the gathering what will work. The Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, who said he had an 18-year crack cocaine addiction and a decade of jail time for drug dealing and thievery, said the key is for people to show they care about the incarcerated.

"It trips me out how we all go to church and say we love Jesus, but we aren't producing anything," said Glasgow, director of a prison/homeless ministry in Dothan. "How can you call yourself a productive citizen if you aren't producing citizens?"

Glasgow, who hatched the idea to form The Ordinary People's Society, or TOPS, while still in prison, said getting sent to prison in Florida was the best thing that could've happened to him because Florida had rehabilitation programs. In an Alabama prison, he said, "I would've rotted."

Glasgow began crying as he implored the 25 people in attendance to get involved. He told them to write or visit prisoners, ask them what they need and work to get laws changed so that drug offenders get treatment instead of jail time.

"You've been to college," he said. "Got those degrees. Sitting up in church hollering, 'Hallelujah!' ... and letting folks rot in jail.

"They're crying out to you. Where are you?"

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