Pubdate: Wed,  2 Nov 2005
Source: Decatur Daily (AL)
Copyright: 2005 The Decatur Daily


Alabama does not have a prison problem. It has a crime

Rather than building more and bigger prisons or spending money
to study the state's prison-crowding situation one more time
Alabama should revamp its sentencing guidelines to get non-violent
offenders treatment and rehabilitation.

A report released Monday points out that drug-related offenses made up
31 percent of state prison admissions in 2004; nearly twice the
number of robbery, murder, rape and manslaughter entries combined,
according to figures supplied by the Alabama Sentencing Commission.

Between 1999 and 2004, prison admissions for drug and alcohol offenses
increased by 21 percent, while admissions for crimes against persons
fell 14 percent.

Alabama lawmakers will consider a series of sentencing reform bills
when the 2006 regular session convenes.

Gov. Bob Riley's task force on prison overcrowding has recommended
reducing the prison population by alternative means of punishment,
including transition centers, community corrections and drug-treatment

Lawmakers would be wise to heed those recommendations.

We certainly don't advocate the legalization of marijuana, as
announced gubernatorial candidate Loretta Nall has proposed. But
community drug-treatment and rehabilitation programs make more sense
than assigning pot possessors to prison beds.

Drug-treatment programs are expensive. But incarceration costs more in
the long run.

Nor do community corrections programs work 100 percent of the time.
Some who complete rehabilitation programs eventually return to illegal
drug use. Often, addicts return to treatment several times before
successfully kicking their habits.

Rehabilitation must be a goal of any criminal justice program. Locking
up non-violent drug offenders together and with other criminals has
proven ineffective in reducing recidivism.

Why change? The most compelling reason is that what the state has done
historically hasn't worked. Our prisons keep overflowing. 
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