Pubdate: Thu, 3 Dec 2009
Source: Journal-Inquirer (Manchester, CT)
Copyright: 2009 Journal-Inquirer
Author: Chris Powell
Note: Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer.


Given state government's financial collapse, state budget director
Robert L. Genuario says Connecticut no longer can afford "sacred cows"
in public budgeting.

Of course Genuario means only to nick a little more at the margins of
state spending, like state grants to municipalities. But if
Connecticut ever got serious about "sacred cows," it would find that
public policy is a teeming, stinky stockyard of mistaken premises.

Maybe the one staring everyone in the face right now is drug
criminalization, since a retired Hartford police officer is on trial
for manslaughter and assault in the fatal shooting and wounding of two
young men in the city in 2005. The officer and a federal alcohol,
tobacco, and firearms agent were prowling the city at night looking
for trouble -- guns and drugs.

They got suspicious about two young men in a parked car, and the
Hartford officer confronted them. Supposedly seeing a gun in the hands
of one of the young men, the officer shot them both as they drove off,
killing one and wounding the other.

No gun was found and no crime had been in progress.

But a man is dead and a retired officer's freedom and reputation are
at stake.

The other night the East Hartford Police Department allowed a Journal
Inquirer reporter to accompany two officers with the "Hot Spot Unit,"
a cruiser assigned to watch the town's worst trouble spots at night.

Their shift was almost all a matter of petty drug violations and small
robberies committed to obtain money for drugs.

In a few days, weeks, or months the perpetrators will be processed by
the criminal-justice system and recycled back onto the streets for
another round of the game.

"No more sacred cows" would mean auditing this futility.

What exactly does Connecticut seek to accomplish by chasing dopeheads
around every day and night, other than maintaining ample fodder for
the criminal-justice system?

Suppose the dopeheads were allowed to buy their intoxicants at a
pharmacy or liquor store, minus the enormous premium built into the
price by contraband law, and go home and get high in peace. It would
not be the end of the drug problem, but it might be the end of most of
the crime problem.

To save money, Governor Rell wants to close one of Connecticut's 18
prisons. The prisons are overcrowded and thus too dangerous for
prisoners and correction officers alike, and no prison should be
closed before there is a careful study of prison design capacity,
figures that are not easily obtained from the Correction Department.
But if Connecticut decided that it didn't care how people intoxicated
themselves in the privacy of their own homes any more than the state
cares now if people drink themselves into unconsciousness at home,
many prisons might be closed even as crowding might be reduced and
safety improved for everyone therein.

In any case, now that the state's finances have collapsed, why not ask
how much drug criminalization Connecticut can afford?
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