In the old movies, it was good guys versus bad guys. But in the real world of crime today, things are much more complicated, especially when addiction is part of the problem.
Too often, our courts confront defendants who could lead productive lives, but their pursuit of drugs or alcohol have led them to criminal acts. They stole copper to get money for pain pills or they neglected their children as they were making meth. Or maybe, they just drove drunk over and over again.
Prisons across the country are bursting at the seams with these sad stories. Officials in West Virginia estimate that 80 percent of the state's inmates are serving time for some drug- or alcohol-related problem. Those numbers make a strong case that investing in treatment could reduce prison costs, but that treatment must be effective and probably mandatory.
Take the case of 49-year-old John David Caldwell of Huntington, W.Va. He is awaiting trial on his 13th drunken driving arrest since the mid-1980s. Six of his prior arrests have led to felony guilty pleas, and he has served about a year in prison on each of those convictions. His driver's license was revoked years ago, but he has continued to drive.
Perhaps a long prison sentence, even life, is the only way to keep him off the road. But at about $20,000 a year to keep him in jail, that could cost state taxpayers $500,000 or more if Caldwell lived to 75. With West Virginia already facing long-term prison overcrowding, these become very tough choices. ...
Currently, the Division of Correction provides prisoners with access to both psychologists and three different rehabilitation programs. But none of these programs is mandatory. ...
For many of the drug or alcohol-related cases, we think treatment should be a mandatory part of the sentence and the inmate's participation part of the public record. Moreover, getting out of jail or being released from treatment should be contingent on completing treatment and staying clean.
- Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, W.Va.