Wednesday, June 3, 2015
This post is more opinion essay than legal blog post. The title references Neil Diamond's song, Beautiful Noise. In this song, Diamond talks about all of the noises of daily life, that await him to give them a tune. This blogger has decided to give voice to several of her observations, rather than discuss legal principles. The essay may not amount to a beautiful noise, but it is this blogger's parsing together of some current issues facing defendants addicted to drugs and alcohol that wind up in the criminal justice system. Diamond lays down a righteous tune; this blogger will provide, what is hoped to be seen as thoughtful ramblings of a somewhat frustrated person with intimate knowledge of the system. Diamond's song is much more fun to listen to, most assuredly!
It's apparent that many things are supposed to be changing in court in recent times. Unfortunately, change is hard for those in power that have to execute the change... In fact, while the legislature in Indiana overhauls the criminal code to make a shift toward more treatment-oriented courts for lower level drug offenders, many jurisdictions have not availed themselves of the money available for treatment-based courts and/or resources. Instead, the same old guard continues to use the same old methods of dealing with repetitive drug violators. It is much easier to continue with what you know than to establish and maintain new programming and treatment resources. In keeping with the status quo, the drug offenders are placed on probation, randomly drug tested, told to go to treatment, and when the treatment that is available in the county is full, or not very easy to get into, the defendant violates probation by continuing to use drugs, and the defendant -- you guessed it -- gets violated on probation and thrown in jail.
What happens when a drug or alcohol offender is put in jail? Are there many programs in county jails in the State of Indiana dealing with addiction? No, there are not. In fact, if you're lucky, a faith-based contingent will go into the jail once or twice a week, and if the defendant is unable to meet with that person, tough luck. Further, if a defendant is hooked on opiates, like suboxone, methadone, oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine or heroin, or the other wonder drug, methamphetamine, they are thrown in jail, and left there to detox. Detoxification from opiates or methamphetamine, without proper treatment, can lead to death or serious physical injury. What are these drug defendants getting in county jails? A one way trip to the padded cell until they are done detoxing. Is this the jails' fault? No, the jails are understaffed and not able to deal with addiction treatment and counseling. Is it the system's fault -- absolutely.
What's going to change this? Hopefully all of us are going to change it. At some point, it will become apparent the war on drugs has become, instead, a war on people who need help. Now, this sounds extremely like a bleeding heart liberal, trying to excuse people from choices they have made in life. Admittedly, this blogger may be more liberal than most. However, she is also a big sister, a former prosecutor, and a stern and blunt person who holds people accountable for their misdeeds, choices, and mistakes. However, the defendants with documented drug or alcohol addiction that are repetitively shoved through the system are not the only ones that have made poor choices. The officers who live in the communities and know the defendants have discretion in arresting people or referring them to treatment. The prosecutors have discretion in charging, negotiating, and offering deals or alternatively, offering treatment. The judges have the choice to determine whether they divert a defendant to treatment, mental health court, or drug court. The county's commissions/councils, and elected officials have the choice to assist in developing alternative treatment courts. Public defenders and criminal defense attorneys continue to have the choice of listening, advocating, and scouring the earth for that last, little known treatment program. However, the only one in the room asking for treatment or looking for treatment should not be the defense attorney. We all have a part to play. Let's do our part. If we don't, there will continue to be a neverending cycle of drug use, probation, violation, incarceration, repeat. While this may increase the county's coffers for probation fees, it does not increase the county's coffers with regard to productive citizens, paying customers at local small businesses, etc. In fact, it provides us with a subdivision of people that are stuck in a revolving door of need, with no end in sight. At some point, don't we have some responsibility?
Do the defendants with drug problems have responsibility -- absolutely. Does society, who judges them via the court system, have a responsibility to effectuate some type of punishment/rehabilitation in order to prevent the endless cycle -- absolutely. So, hopefully, someone out there sees this and agrees and starts to take notice in their branch of society. If other people start to take notice of systemic failures, we can start to have grass roots pushes for systemic change. Sometimes, that grass root effort is what you need in smaller jurisdictions...
Thanks for listening to this blogger's ramblings. Albeit not a Beautiful Noise, like Neil's classic song, but the only one this blogger has to share...
*The opinions expressed are of the blogger only and were not intended as legal advice or as an avenue to open a lawyer-client relationship.