Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Merits of House Bill 516

What legislators blocking House Bill 516 in the Idaho Legislature want you to believe is that without properly enforced mandatory minimums for drug offenses, our families and communities will erode. What they are not saying is what happens to our families and communities when drug offenders are locked up for three to twenty-five years without treatment and return to their lives only to relapse.

The problem with Idaho law in regard to drug offenses is the lack of distinction between drugs. On the books there is no distinction made between a man operating a meth lab in a house with minors and a man picked up with a prescription narcotic not prescribed to him. The problem with Idaho law is that both men, once arrested, will face three to twenty-five years in our overcrowded state prison system and may or may not receive any treatment for their addiction.

Studies by various treatment centers and the United States Department of Health and Human Services suggest that 4 million women, including mothers, in the United States abuse drugs. 4 million women. 4 million women who are wives, mothers, sisters, and friends. Those 4 million women addicted to drugs, prescription or otherwise, are impacting the lives of 16 million plus Americans. The impact is infinite. Unfortunately, in some cases, these women have never been convicted of a crime, have no past history of violence or distribution, but have become engulfed in an addiction they cannot break. Three to twenty-five years in prison will break the physical addiction, it will also break up families, break hearts, and break the resolve of those who want nothing more than to beat the addiction and be successful, productive members of society.

The purpose of House Bill 516 is:
The purpose of this legislation is to provide treatment focused alternative sentencing for certain mandatory minimum sentences. This legislation will allow judges, where appropriate, to sentence those whose crime was primarily the result of addiction, to a treatment focused track so as to more effectively rehabilitate offenders, reduce recidivism and slow growth in Idaho's non-violent offender population.
If Senator Denton Darrington and Representative Jim Clark have their way, House Bill 516, a bill that would give discretion to sitting judges to determine in which drug offense cases treatment is appropriate, will not see the light of day. It will have been printed and no one will ever read its contents.

This piece of legislation is merely adding the following provisions:
  • A person guilty of an offense determined by the court to be primarily the result of addiction may be sentenced pursuant to section 19-2513, Idaho Code, if a treatment plan pursuant to section 19-2524, Idaho Code, is included as a condition of the sentence.
  • A person guilty of an offense determined by the court to be primarily the result of addiction may be sentenced pursuant to section 19-2513, Idaho Code, if a treatment plan pursuant to section 19-2524, Idaho Code, is included as a condition of the sentence.
  • Annually, the supreme court and the department of correction shall include in their report to the joint finance-appropriations committee, the senate judiciary and rules committee and the house judiciary, rules and administration committee and the governor information on the availability of resources for sentencing alternatives outlined in this section including, but not limited to, the number available and the need for the following resources:
    • (a) Adequately trained probation and parole officers;
      (b) Transitional beds in work release centers and other residential transitional facilities in the seven (7) public health districts or six (6) judicial districts of the state;
      (c) Educational, psychological, vocational, mental health and substance abuse programming personnel in community-based programs and in correctional facilities, including county jails;
      (d) Drug and alcohol assessment specialists, rehabilitation specialists and case managers;
      (e) Spaces in residential therapeutic community programs or other evidence-based intensive treatment and rehabilitation programs in correctional facilities as provided by the department of correction, or in community-based settings as provided by the department of health and welfare.
Especially telling--the fiscal impact statement for this bill:
There is no fiscal impact under this legislation. There may however be a reduction to some extent the number of offenders sentenced to additional years in Idaho correctional institutions under Idaho's mandatory minimum sentences. Shorter sentences and reductions in recidivism will free prison beds, reduce the need for prison space, and create cost savings, while more effectively rehabilitating offenders and returning them to productive lives.
How is this not a win-win situation for the Idaho criminal justice system and everyday Idahoans?

The reason certain Idaho legislators don't see this bill as a win-win for Idaho is two-fold: First, their pride would be wounded if they backed away from the mandatory minimums they wrote and set. Second, they continue to see all drug offenders as violent criminals who deserve nothing but incarceration.

Not all drug offenses are violent, not all drug offenders are lifetime criminals. Sadly, many drug offenders in this state and others are simply everyday men and women who cannot release themselves from the frightening depths of addiction. Not without treatment and unfortunately, not by simply locking them up.

If you don't believe what I have said about those who are in this category of offenders or about drug addiction and what it does to families and communities, read the stories of those who have recovered from addiction through treatment, not incarceration.

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