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Do you believe it’s better to put low-level drug offenders in treatment programs instead of prison?

Asked at Checkers, 2300 La. on January 31, 2005

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Photo of Richard Peasah

“Yes, treatment is a better option. I believe prison should be reserved for the big pushers.”

Photo of Bernice Lewrance

“Yes. I think everyone deserves a chance. Just because you make one mistake doesn’t mean you will make another.”

Photo of Michael Stoecker

“Yes I do. Our jails are clogged with marijuana offenders, and we have spent millions of dollars on a failed war on drugs. Studies have shown that treatment works.”

Photo of Monica Dibben

“Yes. I think it is better to try and help them and rehabilitate them than punish them. Drug abuse is more of an illness than a crime.”


Lulu 13 years, 1 month ago

Legalizing drugs would put an end to this controversy and nobody would go to jail but the criminals.

The corporate pigs and religious neocons want control over everything!

Let freedom ring!

Richard Heckler 13 years, 1 month ago

Treatment is the only way to go. Save the hard core prison space for the most violent of offenders. Obviously makes economic sense for taxpayers.

Drug users and some user/dealers would most likely respond to treatment thus never exposing them to the the University of Crime a.k.a. prisons.

Perhaps situations can be created so individuals can retain employment or remain in school while undergoing treatment. Calling it corrective custody whereby a person returns to the treatment center each night.

Stigma attached to being a prisoner is sometimes overwhelming to the point of never really blending back into society. Jobs can be difficult to obtain etc. etc.

craigers 13 years, 1 month ago

Yes, let's make them go through treatment and see if they repeat offend. I mean just because somebody murders one person doesn't mean they will murder again. Why don't we put them through rehab and hope they get better. After all they didn't murder a lot of people and "everybody deserves a chance". I say shorten the jail time and combine it with rehab, but criminals must realize that there are consequences for their actions. Just treatment programs will not help the problem, but I would expect a lot of people in Lawrence to give people more chances instead of making them take responsibility.

Larry 13 years, 1 month ago

Ouch! Man- not a rehab program. That would really hit me where it hurts. I'll never take drugs again - I mean a rehab program scares the ?%$&#* out of me. You mean I would have to show up and listen to someone tell me what I already know. THAT DRUGS ARE BAD! Wait a second- in retrospect, this might not be such a bad idea. The accountability requirements would be terribly difficult to monitor. I'll bet that I could just skip the meetings or go to every other one, skip out at break after attendance has been taken and no one will know or even care for that matter. Yeah, yeah, hut, hut (Beevis noise inserted) - I like this rehab program.

Craiger - your post makes the most sense! Combine the two! Lulu - you're are still in the TWILULU Zone! Get out! Get out!

pistachio 13 years, 1 month ago

OK, just want to clarify a few issues here. My wife and I both work in the criminal justice system, so I know a thing or two about the senate bill in question.

This bill would only allow non-violent (i.e. low-level) drug offenders to enter treatment instead of prison. If an offender is also convicted of a violent crime, they wouldn't be eligible for this program. As Merrill mentioned above, this saves taxpayer money and also keeps one-time criminals from being exposed to career criminals in prison.

Also, Smitty: I have to disagree with your statement that prisons do not attempt to rehabilitate. Some states lock felons up and throw away the key, but not Kansas. We offer everything from cognitive therapy to faith-based treatment programs. Talk to any felon who has done time outside Kansas, and they'll definitely say that Kansas is a better place to be.

Bad_Brad 13 years, 1 month ago

Answering the original question, yes. Prisons are overcrowded as it is. Given that there is a limited amount of prison space without spending a bunch of money to build another, I would rather have a one-time drug offender walking the street than a convicted murderer or robber. Prison should be for the people who pose a serious physical threat to others.

tell_it_like_it_is 13 years, 1 month ago

Yes. I would say that prison should be only for violent or repeat offenders.

Huckleberry 13 years, 1 month ago

I agree that prison time should be reserved for the big time dealers. There has to be a punishment besides treatment though. I think a heavy fine, like a DUI would be best, maybe even a rise in insurance, even if you are not driving when you are caught. Legalizing weed would do nothing to help the drug problem in America.

jonas 13 years, 1 month ago

The problem, of course, with equating drugs to. . . (ahem) murder, is that the only person you end up directly harming is yourself. There are often other repercussions associated with drug use that will do harm to others, but most of those we have seperate laws for. So, when those don't apply, it seems incredibly inept to punish someone simply for willingly harming themselves, doesn't it?

The thing is, by the time many offenders are charged with prison-level offenses, they ALREADY KNOW that drugs are bad. Not because of South Park or some stupid propaganda TV commercial, but because of real life experience of how crappy life is when you're addicted to illegal drugs (not to mention, some of the (cough) legal drugs that are just as hurtful).

So do we, then, punish them for being addicted? Or would our money be better spent by finding a way to get them un-addicted to drugs?

Violating a social contract like an illegal drug law should be grounds for some punishment, if caught, but to say it's on the same level as murder or theft, etc. where there are direct victims other than the violater, seems overzealous.

ive_got_my_ascot_n_my_dickie 13 years, 1 month ago

Treatment will be useless to many drug offenders. They might say, "I'm a recreational user, I don't have a drug problem" and use drugs again right after the program. Besides, drug treatment doesn't seem to be adequate punishment for breaking the law and, therefore, not much of a deterrant. Perhaps a jail sentence with mandatory drug counseling during the jail stay would be a proper motivator for the offender to stay out of trouble in the future.

remember_username 13 years, 1 month ago

A treatment program may work better for most first-time, low-level offenders - but not all. It should be handled on a case-by-case basis with trained professionals making recommendations to a judge regarding the choice between treatment and prison. Defining "low-level" is necessary as some drugs are more harmful than others; some are more amenable to treatment than others. Many heroin addicts would love to get clean, but most casual pot smokers would scoff at treatment.

acg 13 years, 1 month ago

Maybe I'm not very compassionate but I could give a rat's ass if some crackhead wants to kill himself with drugs. You have to be living under a rock in this day and age to not know that those hard drugs will addict you, change you and probably kill you so if you're that stupid then you deserve what you get. I don't think we should pay to house them in jail or try and clean them up in rehab. I think we should let them do what they're going to do and every once in a while the meat wagon should head thru the ghetto and scrape up all the dead bodies. There, problem solved.

acg 13 years, 1 month ago

And before ya'll start coming down on me for being honest, let me tell you, I worked at a drug treatment center for a few years and it was the same story every day. These folks were pushed, pulled and dragged to rehab and maybe one in 10 actually wanted to be there, which meant failure before even getting started. I've seen people smuggle drugs in places that most of ya'll can't even imagine having to look. I've been kicked, punched, spit on, puked on, pooped on, threatened, etc. by people who were dying for a fix and then when you spend all that time cleaning them up and trying to get them ready for society, they go out and do the exact same thing again!! No remorse, no effort, no will. I got into the gig thinking I could make a change and then I realized you can't change people, you can't help people. They are creatures of habit and that's the way life goes.

Carmenilla 13 years, 1 month ago

"every once in a while the meat wagon should head thru the ghetto and scrape up dead bodies. There, problem solved."

I didn't know drug use was only happening in the ghetto. It seems to me that there are plenty of addicts in all walks of life. I think that drug addiction is a lot more complicated then "users should know better". Anyone can get addicted to something if the circumstances allow. How many people do you know that are addicted to alcohol and nicotine? I know they are legal drugs but they are still addictive as hell.It can happen to anyone. Treatment is not always effective but at least they won't go from bad to worse like they might if put in prison. Put someone in a penitentiary for possesion and you are bound to get a more damaged person when they emerge (and one who is unable to get a job because of their conviction). Drugs effect all walks of life. If we followed acg's not-so-compassionate advice we wouldn't be limited to just the "ghettos" to find the drug-users.

Carmenilla 13 years, 1 month ago

Drug addiction is not just a ghetto problem. We have no idea how many pill-popping/alcoholic suburbanites are out there but it is a rising epidemic. We have a society that believes in medicating itself. Maybe when we take a look at the lifestyles we promote we can begin to understand drugs and their abuse. Until than, saying addiction and abuse are confined to the urban areas is incredibly naive. What about meth all over Kansas. What about white teenagers snorting coke and doing Ex?

Carmenilla 13 years, 1 month ago

Cocaine is having a resurgence in suburban areas. These are kids that can actually afford it so they are now being targeted. Meth is the poor white man's answer to coke. Heck they can make it real easy with stuff from the Wally-Mart! Drug culture is not limited to the ghetto.

ive_got_my_ascot_n_my_dickie 13 years, 1 month ago

You must be the dumbest person on the face of the earth. How much of a deterent has Jail been for drug users? What you suggest has been failing for years.

Read my post again, Einstein. I stated that jail COMBINED with treatment that would be a better deterrant.

acg 13 years, 1 month ago

Uh, hugsandkisses, meat wagon is a slang term that refers to a coroner's van. It's been around for many, many years. I believe it originated back during the 20's and all of the gangland slayings of the mob bosses back then. It was also used a lot in the south. Just fyi. And for those of the rest of you that take one word out of what I said and decided to pounce on that, and start freaking out, thanks. I needed a chuckle.

Hong_Kong_Phooey 13 years, 1 month ago

I agree that putting every first-time drug offender in prison is a bad idea. Instead, I would say that they (the State of Kansas) should institute "Drug Offender Boot Camp's" where we send the non-violent people that have only been convicted of possession. 3-6 months inside one of those would probably make many of them not want to become a second-time offender.

I do not believe that the hug-and-a-kiss, it's not your fault, rehab programs do a damn bit of good. "acg" is right on that one.

Carmenilla 13 years, 1 month ago

Wow! Then all those people who have gone thru treatment and overcome addiction are a bunch of flukes, huh? Maybe we should just shoot all drug-users in the head and end their misery for them. It seems that treatment can and does help some. Every case is different. You guys (acg, Hong_Kong, and Ascot) make it seems like treatment isn't even worth it. What is your suggestion than (don't talk about the meat wagon again please)? Ban all addictive substances? Publicly flog all first time users so they can learn their lessons? Maybe it is a societal problem....

acg 13 years, 1 month ago

Carmenilla, have you ever had to deal with an addict or ever had any experience with drug users/abusers before? It surely doesn't sound like it to read your posts. Sure, a person can go to rehab and get clean. They have to WANT to go to rehab. They need to realize for themselves that they have a problem and initiate the help for themselves. You cannot force a person to go into drug rehabilitation and expect it to work. Isn't that what we're talking about here? In lieu of sending someone to prison, force them into a rehab program, right! Well, so sawwy charlie, it doesn't work that way. You can only help people that want to help themselves and until an addict hits rock bottom they won't want that help, most of them anyway, and even then, they don't want it. In my experience working at a treatment center, about 3/4 of our patients were in treatment not of their own volition. They were ordered into treatment by courts or offered treatment instead of jail or sent there by their parents (in the cases of minors). You know what we dealt with? People who, after they got over the DT's and the sickness of the drug, were still insistent they didn't have problems and you could tell that all they were thinking about is getting out and getting to their dealer's house so they could get a fix. They start telling you what you want to hear to move the process along and then they're out and then they're back or they're dead. What's the point? You also said something about young suburbanites getting mixed up with drugs, booze, coke or whatever and you know what? I don't have any sympathy for those people. They have all the advantages of the world and yet still they make bad choices. I could almost expect it out of youngsters trapped in the projects who have all of the hard knocks of life, but I don't expect it out of bored, white teenagers who are filled with unnecessary angst over their easy, surround sound, hi-def, potatoe chip eating lifestyles. So some bored young white kid from upper middle class gets hooked on coke. Oh waaahhhh. Guess what, we all come to the same fork in the road in life and we all have to make a decision. Do I snort that? Do I shoot that in my veins? If someone makes the wrong choice too bad for them!!

donsalsbury 13 years, 1 month ago

We can have some of the boot campers at my house. It needs quite a bit of work done! How about a return to prison labor/chain gangs going from house to house cleaning up or working on the more rundown neighborhoods in Lawrence. It'd be good work experience for the offenders, and it'd also be useful for the city's property values. The city could pay the pittance of wages we're required to give inmates, and the homeowners could pay for supplies. Security would be an issue, but that would still be better than having a jail full of minor drug offenses.

I'm not a fan of legalization or anything we've tried so far. We need to get creative, I think.

Carmenilla 13 years, 1 month ago

Stop foaming at the mouth for a minute and take a deep breath. I HAVE and DO work with addicts on a regular basis. My job puts me in contact with them and I give them medical treatment. I have also volunteered with teen drug addicts and been a counselor for recovering alcoholics. So yes, I do know that it can work. Not always and it is case-sensitive. I just don't understand what you are proposing (if anything) that has merit.

And I was only pointing out that drugs are not limited to the ghetto. I too have zero sympathy for those kids that choose to abuse hard drugs in the confines of suburban security. I find it to be very telling though of a greater societal ill that is plaguing our country. We need to look at the WHY first. Maybe that would help us prevent more abuse.

jonas 13 years, 1 month ago

Again, I must state that this does not include drug-users and addicts when they commit other crimes than simple drug-use or possession, and certainly not dealers.

We're going to be paying for these people one way or the other. Either we pay for rehab, or we pay to put them into prison. The question, then, as I see it, is what is so insensible about having all first violation felony-level users have one free strike, if you will, and have an option of going to rehab to offset a prison sentence? It would be no different than parole, with mandatory rehab, and status checks, the same as parole, to make sure that they are staying clean. Violators go to prison. They already have all of these systems set up and currently in use, just for different things. Second or third violation they lose the chance of rehab diversion. Help the ones that want help, mop the rest up on the next conviction. It seems releastically plausable to me.

But then, so does legalizing pot so I guess I may just be a damned hippy. . .

craigers 13 years, 1 month ago

Drug users are merely people that don't have happiness in their life and try to fulfill that void in their lives that will be there no matter what unless they fill it with the one thing that will do it. That pretty much sums up almost any addiction, a need for unconditional love, that is substituted by some other means and ends up in an addiction.

Carmenilla 13 years, 1 month ago

Let's not forget the addictive part! But yes, I agree wholeheartedly with you that drug abusers are looking to fill a void. I've found from years of counseling them that they are often normal everyday people who made some really bad choices. What is interesting too is the new studies done on people addicted to eating. We have such a huge obesity problem in this country and it is because there is a "fix" you can get from eating. It stimulates the pleasure centers in your brain much like drugs do. We need to address these destructive behaviors and their root because to me, it indicates a nation of unhappy and unfulfilled people.

acg 13 years, 1 month ago

It's odd to me, and very sad, that we're such unhappy people, especially when you consider we're the richest, freeist (is that a word?) nation out there. When you set everything aside we are the greatest country in the world, but alot of our people are fat, lazy, angry, addicted, unmotivated, etc. I would be fascinated to find out why. We have freedom, technology, medical marvels, the best in choices of everything from what we eat to what we drive to where we work or who we marry (well almost). Yet our people seem so miserable. Anyone care to hazard a guess as to why?

Carmenilla 13 years, 1 month ago

Good question although I'm sure no one has all the answers. My theory is that we want so much all the time and we have it all available to us but it never seems to be enough. We have the media telling us its never enough and that we should be on TV, or thinner, or sexier, whatever! We seem to be losing our familial structure. Does anyone eat at a table with their families anymore, for goodness' sake? Also, because of technology and convienance we have put our children on the back-burner. We no longer seem to want to raise them. Instead we allow the TV, Gameboys, computers, overcrowded public schools, etc. to give them their structure. We are creating yet another generation of kids that are misanthropic, looking for a fast-fix, and that have no empathy for others. What do we expect?

kansas 13 years, 1 month ago

I got an even better question for you, acg. How come homeless people are far less likely, per capita, to commit suicide than people of higher socio-economic status?? I mean, you would think that some homeless guy, with no money, no job, no family or friends, no life, and no hope----and hooked on one drug or another, would have every reason in the world to just go ahead and "end it all"!! And I'm sure that there are homeless people who do, don't get me wrong! But I'd be willing to bet that for all of the reported suicides that there are here in this state, in any given year, many of those victims are people in the middle class or higher, who have one major setback in their lives....and boom! They wind up blowing their brains out!! They lose a job, or a spouse to divorce, or they end up losing their life savings because of some poor investment, and they decide that life isn't worth they just chose to kill themselves instead of just "facing the music"!!

And look at all of them starving people in Africa!! Boy, if ever there was a large number of people in this world who I couldn't blame for wanting to end it would be those poor starving/war-ravaged souls living in Africa!! But once again, I'd be willing to bet that, in many of those African nations, their suicide rates aren't like they are here in the good ol' US of A!!

My feeling is that there are far too many Americans who expect life to be a whole lot easier than it is....and when they find out it's not.....they just can't take it! They obviously have very poor coping skills.

But I'm just speculating here, I'm not pretending to be some "suicide expert". I just thought I'd throw that one out there for you and others and to get everyone's thoughts on it.

acg 13 years, 1 month ago

Ya'll are both so right, I think. The more we have, the more we want, the easier we have it, the easier we want it. But how do we stop this horrible trend? Technology, while great, perpetuates the problems. We don't talk to each other anymore. We don't take responsibility for our own lives and carmenilla is right, we don't want to raise our own kids. We can't go back, though at this point. And Kansas, I would be willing to bet that even cold and hungry, the homeless are happier than most of us that are trapped in this vicious cycle of chasing material posessions. If I were an anthropoligical genius, maybe I could solve the problems. All I can do personally is hold my kids close and hope the world doesn't get them. ; )

Carmenilla 13 years, 1 month ago

My favorite comedian Bill Hicks always said this about life: "Hey, its a ride! People get on and they start to look at life and they think this can't be a ride. Look at my house, my car. This is real. This can't be a ride." Its a ride. Laugh, don't take things to seriously. Love eachother. Stop worrying about keeping up with the Joneses. We'll all be better off when we stop worrying so much about what we think we don't have and start appreciating what we do!

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