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Supervision or Prison for Drug Crimes?

An ongoing problem for law enforcement is how to handle the huge number of persons imprisoned for merely using or having relatively small amounts of illegal drugs. Along with this problem also goes “why” to what end are they imprisoned? Are prisons “penitentiaries” where a person has large amounts of time given them to reflect on their path, repent or do penance for their crimes, and when they are released return a better citizen? Or is prison simply a place where you have a kind of “time-out” for unacceptable behavior? There is always the hope you won’t return but, if you can’t do the time, why did you do the crime!?

But the point should not be simply to prove how tough we are on criminal behavior and forget these are people and no just statistics in a report. Their family, friends and others are also affected. Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Benjamin says of SB 371 “We can leave them in the prison for (that six months) and then just let them out into society with no skills, no supervision and we know what happens because we’ve seen it happen.”

House Minority Leader Tim Armstead argues there are four elements of the corrections system that must be taken into account and balanced, they are: “punishment, deterrence, incapacitation, keeping those people who commit crimes away from the public to recommit crimes and rehabilitation. All four of those factors have to be balanced and combined. And it’s a challenge, and it is always a challenge for this body, or any body, to balance those correctly.”

It is especially the issue of “incapacitation,” keeping and preventing the public from having these crimes committed against them, which is a large concern for Armstead and others. House Judiciary Chair Tim Miley points out that they recognize this and the bill “provides extended supervision and increased focus on non-violent offenders while making certain that violent offenders aren’t released due to overcrowding. This bill is designed to enhance public safety, first, and savings second, and we think this bill does that.”

It is estimated the bill and the program will save the state $18 million over the next year. And when placed over against an estimate of coming up with an additional $200 million for a new prison to relieve overcrowding it would be the more prudent course.

Setting up more and more housing for a permanent underclass of repeat non-violent offenders is not a wise and responsible course of punishment and return to society just to do it all over again, and again. Putting in place programs that stick close to the released offenders and follow through in an intensive one-on-one fashion is the best way.

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