Pubdate: Fri,  9 Mar 2001
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 2001 The Eagle-Tribune
Contact:  P.O. Box 100 Lawrence, MA 01842
Fax: (978) 687-6045
Author: Nancy C. Rodriguez, Eagle-Tribune Writer


BOSTON -- State Sen. James P. Jajuga isn't the most likely lawmaker to come
to mind when the subject is scrapping the state's mandatory sentences for
drug offenders.

After all, the former head of the Essex County Drug Task Force and state
police lieutenant was a supporter of the hardline-on-crime measure.

But that's just what the Methuen Democrat is considering these days.

"I'm not saying do a wholesale abandonment of them, but we have to take a
look," said Sen. Jajuga, who is the Senate chairman of the Joint Public
Safety Committee. "People who are convicted for first-time drug crimes are
serving more than people convicted of rape and homicide. I'm not saying some
of them don't deserve this. But I am saying we need to do more with
education, prevention, intervention, treatment and after-care."

"When you get incarcerated, it's too late. And then when you get out, not
only do you carry the burden of having served time, but you have to commit
crimes to feed your habit," Sen. Jajuga said. "It's like a scarlet letter
burned into your head."

Frustrated by what he sees as an ineffective approach that spends more state
money on incarceration than prevention and intervention, the moderate
Democrat is working on a "comprehensive response" to the state's drug

What the final product will look like is still up in the air, the
54-year-old lawmaker said.

"I don't even know what stance I'm taking. I just know we have to think out
of the box. ... I've been around long enough to realize we need to do
something different."

According to a study released in January by The National Center for
Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, Massachusetts spent
most of its substance abuse money, 31 percent in 1998, on court cases and
incarceration. Fourteen percent was spent on education, and 2 percent on
public safety.

"It's all on the table," Sen. Jajuga said. "I'm ready to make some bold

Sen. Jajuga hopes there will be in a more cohesive attack on drug abuse.
Right now, there is a "hodgepodge" of programs and initiatives that are
often different depending on what city, town or county a person is in, he

Sen. Jajuga points to study after study that shows the so-called war on
drugs is failing. Millions have been spent on border patrols, drug cops and
education programs, yet prosecution and incarceration are all up since 1980,
and the jail and prison population has quadrupled over that period.

At the same time, drugs remain as available as ever, Sen. Jajuga said.
Cocaine and heroin have grown cheaper and purer over the past two decades,
he said.

But it was last fall's near-passage of a referendum question aimed at using
drug forfeiture dollars to pay for drug treatment that was the clincher for
the state senator. The ballot question -- which would have sent low level,
first- and second-time offenders to treatment not prison, failed by a vote
of 1.3 million to 1.2 million -- separated by only 114,093 votes. "It was a
dose of reality for me," Sen. Jajuga said. "The public is beginning to
support this."

A study by The RAND Drug Policy Research Center calculated that spending an
extra $1 million on treatment would reduce cocaine consumption 3.5 times
more than spending that money on domestic enforcement.

Based on his research, Sen. Jajuga estimates that of the state's 23,000
prisoners, 80 percent have substance-abuse problems. That figure jumps to 90
percent with county prisoners, he said. Because many of those prisoners are
illiterate or ill trained, when they get out of prison, a quarter of them
re-offend because they can't find a job, studies show.

Depending on Sen. Jajuga's proposal, Massachusetts could be the latest state
to take a long look at how it has been fighting substance abuse.

Recently, New York Republican Gov. George Pataki proposed reform of the
state's mandatory drug sentences, which cause millions to be spent on
locking up nonviolent offenders. New Mexico also has been rethinking its
drug policy. With the recent release of "Traffic," a movie about the
futility of the drug war, reform appears to be on politicians' minds.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Andrew