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Drug courts offer sensible alternative to prison
Colorado and California have loosened their drug laws in the name of "medical marijuana," and the issue is poised to come up in Nebraska as well.
Few of us would advocate expanded availability of mind-altering drugs, but there's a good argument that too much law enforcement effort and court time is spent dealing, ineffectively, with drug violations.
Drug violations need to be taken seriously, but a growing system of "Problem Solving Courts," specifically created to deal with drug issues is a better approach than simply relegating the cases to standard criminal courts.
The latest is the 8th Judicial District, which includes O'Neill in north-central Nebraska.
These specialized courts usually pair intensive addiction treatment with judicial oversight. In drug courts, people plead guilty with the understanding that their sentences will be deferred for the program. If they don't complete the program, they are sentenced for their original crimes. If they finish successfully, prosecutors then ask judges to void the convictions.
Drug courts exist in the state's most heavily populated counties -- Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy, as well as in other districts around the state.
Such specialized courts serving the Kearney and Grand Island areas have shown success as well, with a 75-80 percent success rate.
And they're no easy way out. Many offenders say the intensive treatment and accountability make a drug court sentence tougher than prison.
Like the Work Ethic Camp program, however, it gives cooperative participants a new chance at life.
It's unclear whether our district, the 11th Judicial District, is being served by a drug court. The coordinator of the state's problem-solving courts said only one district, the 5th, was not yet served by a drug court, but one was being planned there. A check with the local court, however, turned up no evidence of one in operation in this district.
Whatever the case, a drug court needs to be established in our district, or to become more active and visible, if it already exists.
Too much legal time is being devoted to cases that would more appropriately be handled in an enforced drug treatment system.