Thursday, March 6, 2008

Treating Addiction

Embarking down a road of public service, Senator Denton Darrington (R-Declo) may not have ever imagined he would become the chairman of the Idaho Senate's judiciary committee nor would he have imagined his voice would be the strongest on the issue of mandatory minimums and sentencing laws for drug-related offenses.

Twenty-six years later, this is who the senator reigning from one of the most rural communities in Idaho has become.

Sitting at his desk in Boise, Darrington seems to be far removed from his Declo roots. He no longer looks at an issue, like mandatory minimums, and thinks first of the individuals in his district that he has interacted with on a personal level. His perspective seems to be tainted by too much time in the big city where drugs and criminal activity are quite a bit more prominent than they are back home. Never mind how far removed he is from the youth of this state, a demographic he once had first hand knowledge of as a history teacher in public schools.

Recently, Representative Nicole LeFavour (D-Boise) issued a press release regarding mandatory sentencing laws and treatment options for drug offenses. House Bill 516, sponsored by LeFavour, would amend Idaho Code to allow for more sentencing options including mental health and drug treatment for drug-related offenses.

Senator Darrington has suggested he will do everything in his power to block this piece of legislation. LeFavour writes:
Senator Darrington, Chairman of Idaho’s Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee has written in opposition to any reforms in Idaho’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws. However the Senator actually makes a strong case in favor of sentencing reform like that contained in this year’s House Bill 516. This legislation would allow judges to use a treatment focused alternative to mandatory minimum sentences for offenders whose primary issue is addiction. The Senator says he will not hear this legislation, but yet says that we should show compassion for those for whom treatment is appropriate. Unfortunately current Idaho law allows judges no discretion what so ever in these cases and forces a mandatory minimum sentence of three to twenty five years for anyone caught with certain quantities of a controlled substance, regardless of their need for treatment and circumstances of the case.
Darrington seems to possess a black and white opinion of drug offenses. All drug offenders are criminals. All criminals are dangerous. The sum of these two statements being, at least in the opinion of Mr. Darrington, all dangerous, drug using criminals must be locked up.

At what cost? Recent studies indicate that Idaho is forking out an amount of $20,000 per person, per year for imprisonment. This includes both in-state and out-of-state prisons housing Idaho prisoners.

Despite this staggering figure, Darrington continues to believe that there is no support for reducing minimum sentences and placing the length of time back in the hands of the judges officiating in these cases. In the spring of 2005, Darrington stated that "rescinding mandatory minimums for drug dealers and repeat drunk drivers is unlikely since there are no natural constituencies that would push for such legislation." I don't know what the textbook definition of "natural constituencies" is, but I assume Darrington is ignoring the ACLU, authorities within the Idaho Department of Corrections, and the families of drug offenders here.

Darrington seems to have forgotten about the everyday Idahoans that he used to represent, before chairmanships went to his head. He seems to have forgotten that when discussing drug offenders we are not merely discussing thugs who have held up convenience stores for whatever money they could get out of the cash register to score some methamphetamine or the meth dealers who have set up their make-shift labs in apartment buildings putting all of their neighbors and unfortunately often their children at risk. In discussing drug offenders we are also speaking of those suffering from mental illness who have resorted to prescription narcotics and we are talking about housewives who have become entangled in an addiction to pain medication after a recent accident or surgery.

Senator Darrington, would you please remember when whatever discussion surrounding mandatory minimums and the option of treatment arises this is not limited to violent offenders who have used a gun in effort to score, the issue is unlimited in the range of Idahoans and Idaho families the law itself will impact.

Senator Darrington, please remember that recent surveys of the American public show that 63% of us believe that drug offenses should be handled through treatment and counseling rather than incarceration and the justice system. 63% of America must include at least a handful of the constituency you stopped listening to years ago.

Senator Darrington, please remember that even your party, the current administration, has suggested that the benefits of treatment for drug offenders infiltrate both the offenders family and friends, but also their communities and this country. Even the current administration has admitted that their role and drug policy can result in more productive members of society:
Drug abuse among correctional populations is a pervasive problem affecting between 60% and 80% of offenders under supervision. By requiring drug testing at the State and Federal levels, providing models of successful drug treatment programs, providing financial support for research and prevention, and looking to the future for a long-term commitment, the Federal Government will provide the basis for effective treatment programs for offenders to become productive, positive members of society.
Notice how many times treatment is mentioned. Nowhere in there do they mention incarceration being beneficial to the drug offending population.

Senator Darrington, please explain to me how you can justify locking up an offender who has been pulled over with narcotics in her possession, the unfortunate result of an addiction to pain medication following an accident. And at what cost? The cost of her children, job, and reputation?

Senator Darrington, I urge you to explain to me how you can justify enforcing a mandatory minimum for this woman and many other Idahoans who would be much better served by an admittance to Canyon View instead of a three to twenty-five year stay at the crowbar hotel.

You cannot.


Jared said...

I don't know if its at issue or not, but for repeat drunk drivers I don't know if I would support a change. My uncle falls into that category. He tried the Walker Center and Canyon View but it wasn't until he spent 6 months in prison that he cleaned up. In 2 years he's had only 1 relapse (last December), a fantastic success if you knew the road he's traveled the past decade. But I know your talking drugs here and maybe you're right. I obviously don't think a pill-popping mother should fall into the same category of the folks with meth lab in the basement. Maybe we should keep the manditory minimums, just codify some mitigating factors that could ease sentencing requirements, of like we do with the death penalty. This is just an idea. I just wanted to point out that we shouldn't be so quick to praise some options and descredit others.

Wordsmith said...

I'm an alcoholic. I got sober after a couple of decades of drinking; I've been sober since 5/23/1995, dang near 13 years w/o relapse. I've never received a DUI, spent time in jail because of it or even come close. It depends on the person, Jared.

I'm going to read on this more tonight, Tara. I had a email conversation with Nicole LeFavour about this a few weeks ago. I want to read what she wrote to me again. Darrington is just a fucking ass - a fucking ass. I think he's countering because it's about control. He wanted the higher and harsher sentences for drug crimes.

Jared said...

Great job wordsmith! I wish a lifetime of sobriety for you, my friend. I can't say I understand addictions very well at all. But I do know Darrington. Very well actually. And if there's something e is, its a stubborn control-freak. And this from one who likes him as a person.

Wordsmith said...

Funny thing though, Jared. You can understand someone, not agree with their politics or other things, and like them, even enjoy them, as a person.

(Tara - i think i'm getting the hang of these spelling tests!)

Tara A. Rowe said...

Funny thing, Wordsmith, I understand Jared, don't agree with his politics 99% of the time, but man, I like him.

(Could you tell me the trick of the spelling tests? It only took me 2 tries at Unequivocal Notion today.)

Sage Word said...

2 things.

Go, girl. Awesome rant.

And for spelling help, switch to firefox: it highlights your misspellings as you write. Point at a redlined word, right-click (or ctrl-click on your shiny new macbook), and the popup menu includes suggestions.

Yeah, it fails on words like jared, tara and firefox (popup and redlined, too). But it'll catch enough and help you through the obvious and hard-to-remember ones.

G'luck teachin' the pig to sing.

Jared said...

RE: Wordsmith

Hence the reason I come back to this blog :) Tara and I have been friends for a long time.

slfisher said...

I feel the same way about Mike Moyle. I disagree with a bunch of his views, but man, he is smart and articulate and effective and passionate and I love the way he dresses. :)

Tara A. Rowe said...

Wrong kind of spelling test d2...we're talking about those tricky fill in what you see in the box things so the 'puter knows you aren't a hacker or a spammer or whatever.

Steve said...

Very good article. Yes, the real handling for drug addiction is detox and rehab. As the director of Novus Medical Detox, I daily see the ravages caused by prescription drug addiction created by doctors prescribing it to their patients and then the patients either continuing to obtain it or purchasing these drugs on the internet or the street. Probably the worst of these drugs is OxyContin--legal heroin.

Pain is real. I have had it much of my life first from polio and then from two surgeries. However, there are alternatives to painkillers and they must be tried first. Let's not treat the symptoms but the cause.

Prescription drug addiction is an epidemic and we must do everything we can to stop it before it overwhelms us. Education is a must.

We have to break the cycle of people going to prison for drug offenses, never handling their addiction and committing the same crimes over and over until they or someone else dies.

Steve Hayes

Marilyn said...

This is a comprehensive addiction portal focusing on topics of alcohol and drug abuse.