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Mike Hendricks

Mike at Night

Mike Hendricks recently retires as social science, criminal justice instructor at McCook Community College.

What we do with drug offenders

Friday, March 10, 2017

For all the crimes that could get a person sent to prison, the most controversial ones have always been the ones dealing with felony drug offenders. And the issue seems to be divided right down the middle, like almost everything else is these days. A certain group contends that sending a user to prison is the wrong solution to a problem. According to Drug War Facts, the most frequent minimum penalty for a drug offense is ten years and the drug use sentenced most often in descending order from most to least is marijuana, powder cocaine, crack cocaine, meth and heroin.

So, theoretically at least, the typical drug offender in prison is a marijuana user serving a ten year sentence and the group mentioned earlier considers this to be a travesty, especially since either medical or recreational marijuana use has been legalized in a number of states, although it is still a felony crime at the federal level. Obama handled this by essentially giving the FBI a 'hands off' directive from arresting users in states that had legalized marijuana use but Trump indicates his policy will be to enforce federal law, whether it agrees with state law or not.

Groups on the other side favor Trump's perspective. They say you either abide by the law or you don't and if you don't and get convicted of it, you should be punished. Their perspective is simple. Behavior is a matter of self-control utilizing the things we've learned about appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Most of us were raised in families that took a dim view on ANY illegal drug, including marijuana and had rules that prohibited drug use. If this was taught to us but, because of a lack of self-control, we broke the rule anyway, then that was our choice and we deserved the consequences of our actions.

I think we're all aware that there are consequences to EVERY action; whether it be a positive consequence or a negative consequence. We're rewarded for doing good things and punished for doing bad ones. People can argue until the cows come home that alcohol is a drug too and should be handled the same way other illegal drugs are but the difference is it's NOT illegal. Americans decided that when Prohibition was repealed. So even though the physical risk of regular use of the drug is just as bad as it is for illegal drugs and worse for some, the proponents of alcohol use contend that's not the point. They say there are a lot of things in the world that can hurt you, even kill you and many of those things are not illegal to do. The idea is to teach your children the pros and cons of ANY type of drug use and then hope they make good decisions.

Of course, young people have to LEARN that drug use is bad and in many communities across the United States, this lesson simply isn't being taught. If it isn't, you're not going to learn it and, consequently, end up facing a lifetime of despair because of it.

A common argument about drug offenders is that we need to treat them, not incarcerate them. Treat them as in cure them or at the very least, rehabilitate them. The problem is we don't know how to rehabilitate people and the offenders know that. Nobody's going to change their behavior unless they're personally driven to do that and we don't have any idea how to change a person's mindset. In fact, many experts believe a mindset CANNOT be changed:

That it is formed early in life and is ours for better or worse for the rest of our lives. Behaviors can be extinguished, mindsets can't. That's why the objective of Alcoholics Anonymous is to not have a drink today and that there is no such thing as a recovered alcoholic; only recovering alcoholics because the mind still wants a drink, even if one has the self-control to extinguish the behavior.

The final issue is what do we do with the players and users of the drug world? The con men who will tell you anything to avoid jail or prison but never change their behaviors at all. This world is filled with people like that. Their main objective is to do what they want to do without suffering any negative consequences for doing it and one of the ways they achieve this is to sweet-talk their accusers into believing they're something they're not. Every police officer has dealt with people like this and they know, whether they can prove it or not, that these people aren't ever going to change. So when you mention rehabilitation to them, you're not making them accountable for their behaviors because anything short of a prison sentence is not seen as punishment in their eyes.

So the debate will continue over what to do with drug offenders. But one thing we must all remember is that the first time they used an illegal drug, they knew they were doing something wrong! They knew they were violating a law, they knew they were committing a crime and they did it anyway. There are many behaviors a lot of people would participate in if they weren't illegal but because they are, law abiders don't break these laws. Law breakers do.

The question is do we treat them as criminals or patients?

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  • Several years ago Portugal decriminalized drugs and put their resources toward treatment rather than criminal prosecution and by all accounts I have read their program is successful. Most definitely the War on Drugs in this country has been a complete failure.

    -- Posted by ontheleftcoast on Mon, Mar 13, 2017, at 3:37 PM
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