Pubdate: Thu, 25 Jul 2002
Source: Times Leader (PA)
Copyright: 2002 The Times Leader
Author: Penny Pennachi
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)


Over the past couple of weeks I couldn't help but notice the consistent 
flow of citizens' letters regarding Luzerne County's drug policies. I am 
but yet another one of those concerned community members.

I am a professional addictions counselor who, for the past 15 years, has 
provided direct drug and alcohol counseling in all treatment modalities 
including prisons. For most of those years I provided treatment in other 
counties and states. I've only resided and worked in Luzerne County for the 
past year.

I am president of Spirit and Associates, an intervention and training 
service that specializes in educating and helping the family members of 
addicted individuals. We are in the business of helping those who do not 
wish to be helped. I am also an associate co-owner of Advocates for Today's 
Families. We advocate for client rights and services within the community. 
We specialize in community and family unity. We have helped develop a 
community-based coalition group that meets every two weeks to address 
concerns regarding current drug policy and a failing legal system in 
Luzerne County.

It is not difficult for anyone working with or presently "in" the current 
system in Luzerne County to see that our system, at large, isn't working. 
This is a view also shared with me by some of the prominent members of the 
Luzerne County Court who, too, are frustrated by the system which, in one 
member's own words, "treats the addict like an animal rather than the sick 
person they are."

Why do Luzerne County officials do the same thing over and over expecting 
different results? Or ... are they expecting different results?

Luzerne County is behind the times regarding drug-law sentencing and 
treatment for drug offenders. One only has to look a short distance to the 
north to the city of Scranton to see a drug court system, that although 
new, is working and in a relatively short time of operation achieving 
impressive results.

Luzerne County is, by far, one of the worst legal systems regarding drug 
law and sentencing for those with drug charges. For example, there has been 
a recognition nationally of the drug epidemic and the need for our legal 
system to intervene. Many counties, including Lackawanna, have implemented 
Drug Court, a program designed to assist those with drug crimes with 
getting the help they need rather than simply punishing them.

Yes, the addicted individual does suffer from an illness. It should be 
noted that this illness is a highly treatable illness and with proper 
treatment "lasting change" in the person can be achieved.

Yes, the addicted individual is indeed responsible for their actions. No 
one is seeking to excuse the addict for their crimes or misdeeds, and yes, 
they should pay to society "appropriate" penalty as established by law.

However, punishment alone does not address the problem and move toward 
effective long-term solutions. In most cases, simply punishing the addict 
only exasperates the problem, leading to continued recidivism and a 
revolving door to the prisons with the addict being incarcerated, serving a 
sentence, being released in the same or in many cases worse condition, 
being released only to recommit crimes to support their addiction and 
ultimately to being re-incarcerated.

A truly wonderful system for perpetuation of the ongoing cycle of despair 
resulting in ever increasing numbers of deaths, misery, and innocent 
victims along the way.

The good-old-boy system - or, the "nephew of a political official" gets a 
slap on the wrist and turned loose while those without power or influence 
are locked up and warehoused in a prison without proper treatment of their 
illness - is not the answer.

Drug Courts coupled with proper treatment of the illness of addiction has a 
proven record of success in many communities through out the United States 

It is time for Luzerne County to enter the new millennium and abandon 
antiquated methods that did not work then, and still do not today.

It's time that the citizens of this community collaborate to effect viable 
changes in our current drug policies.

Penny Pennachi

Forty Fort
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