Pubdate: Tue, 13 Mar 2001
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 2001 The Eagle-Tribune
Contact:  P.O. Box 100 Lawrence, MA 01842
Fax: (978) 687-6045


Our View

We need a balanced approach to drug crime that includes both incarceration 
and treatment.

Massachusetts state Sen. James P. Jajuga, D-Methuen, thinks we need to 
takea new look at the way we handle those convicted of drug crimes. The 
senator, a former state police lieutenant and leader of the Essex County 
Drug Task Force, has long been an advocate of the 
lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key approach.

Now, he says, he wonders if mandatory minimum jail sentences are working. 
He asks if we should not consider doing more with drug treatment than with 

We don't know what is prompting Sen. Jajuga's shift in position.

But he is absolutely correct.

It is clear that the hard-line "War on Drugs" is not working. More people 
are in jail for drug offenses than for other types of crime. Drug offenders 
are serving longer sentences than those convicted of rape and murder. 
Nationally, billions are spent trying to stop the flow of drugs across our 
border. We are supporting the training of armed forces in places like 
Colombia in an attempt to stop production of cocaine.

Despite all this effort, illegal drugs are cheaper and more potent than 
ever. The reason they are cheap is simple economics -- there are plenty to 
go around. In spite of all our efforts, drugs are plentiful on our streets.

Sen. Jajuga is right to note that something is not working here. 
Legislators in Massachusetts, in New Hampshire and in every state ought to 
look at their drug policies with an eye toward improvement.

The trick is to find a proper balance.

Some offenders need to go to prison for long terms -- those who are selling 
drugs, committing other serious crimes to support their habits or involving 
children in the drug trade need severe punishment.

For others, treatment is clearly a better choice than prison. We need to 
support sufficient funding to expand the range of drug treatment available.

We opposed a ballot initiative in Massachusetts last November that would 
have directed more money toward drug treatment because it was bad law. The 
initiative would have allowed those caught with salable quantities of drugs 
to opt for treatment rather than prison. It was a "get-out-of-jail-free 
card" for drug dealers.

Finding the right balance will require thoughtful deliberation on the part 
of legislators and the public.

By questioning existing policy, Sen. Jajuga has taken a first step in that 
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