Pubdate: Fri, 19 Sep 2003
Source: Post and Courier, The (Charleston, SC)
Copyright: 2003 Evening Post Publishing Co.
Author: Dave Munday


The war on drugs is filling jails faster than governments can build them, 
so officials need to change their strategy, according to South Carolinians 
for Drug Law Reform.

South Carolina needs laws that would require officials to put low-level 
offenders into treatment programs instead of sending them to jail, said 
group President Skip Johnson. The group also wants governments to 
decriminalize and regulate the sale of drugs.

On the state level, they want the Legislature to:

- -- Lower the penalties for crack use to equal those for cocaine use.

- -- Change mandatory sentencing laws so judges will have more discretion in 
matching the punishment with the crime.

The Associated Press reported earlier this week that a number of states are 
putting treatment ahead of punishment. The changes have been motivated 
partly by money. It costs much less to treat offenders than to jail them.

California started mandating treatment instead of incarceration for first- 
and second-time offenders in 2000. A study at the University of California 
at Los Angeles showed that the new approach saved taxpayers $275 million in 
its first two years, according to Sharon Fratepietro, vice president of the 
local reform group.

Charleston County's drug court shepherds some offenders through treatment 
programs, but it doesn't get enough money to make more than a dent in the 
problem, court officials have said.

"It's a step in the right direction," Fratepietro said.

Lawmakers are hesitant to talk about treating offenders instead of jailing 
them because politicians don't want to be perceived as soft on drugs, 
Johnson said. "They don't want to talk about the problem," he said. "We 
hope at least to get people talking about it."

The group will hold its first public meeting at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the 
Charleston County Public Library. Attorney Dale Cobb, a former prosecutor 
and president of the Charleston County Trial Lawyers Association, will 
speak on the need for drug law reform.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth