By DESIREE HUNTER
Associated Press Writer
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Drug addiction is hard to shake, but Alabama has been taking significant steps to help those struggling with dependence get the treatment they need instead of just locking them up, Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb said Thursday.
With 25 more drug courts in line to join the 16 already operating, Alabama will be in a position to lead the country, Cobb told more than 100 judges, lawyers and community corrections officials who will be involved in the expanding program.
"I want us to be known for fixing people rather than filling prisons," she said.
Drug courts allow nonviolent drug offenders to go through a lengthy program that involves intense supervision and testing while they are rehabilitated. The charges are dropped if they stay drug free for a year.
The goal is to have at least one exemplary court in all 67 counties by 2010, Cobb said after addressing the attendees at a three-day drug court training conference. Some at the meeting already have courts in their areas and others will be able to start them by Oct. 1.
As of February, the Jefferson County program had accepted 4,161 offenders, with 2,610 graduates and 431 who were still enrolled. A total of 701 failed the program and were sentenced to prison, but the recidivism rate for graduates was just nine percent. The defendants have paid more than $3.1 million in drug court fees and the program has saved more than $36 million in prison costs.
Prisons Commissioner Richard Allen said last week that about a third of the inmates in state facilities were charged with drug offenses, while 75 to 80 percent had drug problems that contributed to their crimes.
Last month there were 29,357 inmates packed into the state's aging prison system that was built to hold less than half that number. Drug courts will help with overcrowding by keeping convicted offenders from entering the system.
What Chief Justice Cobb is saying sounds really good. I want to thank her publicly here on my blog for her continued efforts to ease prison overcrowding and address drug addiction with a more compassionate approach. It is so important that society begin to realize that people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol are not bad people who belong in prison just because they are addicted. Regardless of how they got addicted they are still someone's mother, father, daughter, son, husband, wife or friend. I can guarantee you that not a single one of them sat and dreamed of being an alcoholic or addict when they were kids. It is time we stopped using the prison system to further destroy their already desperate lives.
Many of you may think that I have never experienced the addiction of a loved one, that I am just an advocate for marijuana. You would be wrong. I have two brothers. One in prison and one who just overdosed for the 9th time on methadone provided to him by the VA. I love them both very much despite their addictions. I know for a fact locking them in prison does not work and never will. It simply drives them insane and when they are released it is like they are coming out of a war zone. My brother Randy is due for release in October of this year. All of his 'crimes' are alcohol related.
What I fear with drug courts is that they will simply round up pot smokers and thereby fill up beds in treatment centers that should really be available to people suffering from hard drug addiction like my two brothers. However, pot smokers are much more numerous than all of the other drug users combined and chances are some of these courts will get the majority of their funds from responsible adult marijuana consumers. So much for the theory of safety in numbers, eh?
Recently Rep. Cam Ward wrote a piece over at Doc's Political Parlor entitled Drug Courts Can Reduce Overcrowding where we had an in-depth discussion about how the drug courts work, how they are suppossed to work, how they could work better, comments from people who have been through it and from family members of people that have been through them. You should definitely check that out. Don't miss my fellow blogger Bitter Old Punk's response as a consumer of the drug court program in Shelby County. It's absolutely priceless.
My thought's are that marijuana should be removed from all criminal sanction's, police involvement, and court oversight when used responsibly by adults. We all know it is safer than alcohol and not addictive to the degree that anyone actually suffers withdrawals if they quit. I say unless people who smoke pot are doing something to endanger others there is no reason for the police or the courts to be involved. Taking responsible adult pot smokers out of the drug court equation will greatly enable the drug courts to better help the people that really need it.
I hope that these new drug courts are being run by people who understand that basic, common sense principal. However, being a veteran of the court system and knowing how things work I want them all to know that I will be watching.