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


Connecticut's sensation the other day was the arrest of a woman from
Windham for a weeklong crime spree, the robbery of six banks from West
Springfield to Westerly, R.I. The woman, 34, has a criminal record
involving drugs and prostitution and police believe she committed the
robberies to support her drug addiction. That suspicion about her was
shared in a television station's interview with a friend who lamented
emotionally his inability to stop her. The friend speculated that her
robberies were a "cry for help." Indeed, the woman did not disguise
herself as, a bit ridiculously, she told bank tellers that she was
carrying a bomb in a handbag.

A couple of days after the Windham woman's arrest, the 21-year-old son
of Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy pleaded guilty to attempted robbery and
drug charges in connection with incidents this year and in 2007. The
mayor's son was lucky to get a suspended sentence. His parents say he
has mental health and addiction problems and is getting treatment.
Since Mayor Malloy is again a candidate for the Democratic nomination
for governor, a newspaper was able to extract well wishes for him and
his son from two of his rivals.

Of course nobody bothered casting around for well wishes for the sad
sack from Windham. She's probably facing a long stay at the women's
prison in Niantic.

In their own ways the two cases were pathetic, but not as pathetic as
government's treatment of the underlying problems -- criminal
treatment. After all, is society really better served by driving such
problems underground and outside the law? What if such problems were
decriminalized and medicalized -- that is, if people were allowed to
be recognized as addicts and to obtain their intoxicants by
prescription in a clinical environment where they might at least be
invited to obtain whatever addiction-breaking help is available?

Such approaches show some success in other countries. They don't
eliminate the problem but rather change it; they trade a fantastically
expensive and violent problem for a much less expensive and almost
nonviolent one. Police, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, and
parole officers are exchanged for doctors, nurses, social workers, and
pharmacists; hardly anyone gets killed or injured; streets are cleaned
up; banks, gas stations, convenience stores, and other easy robbery
targets are made a lot safer; and a few lives are rehabilitated, and
those that aren't at least don't do as much harm.

 From the well wishes offered to Mayor Malloy, it's plain that people
in politics know that drug and mental health problems can afflict
families regardless of social standing and that retribution against
the afflicted is cruel and ineffective. So why is such acknowledgment
not really manifested in Connecticut's law? Why does Connecticut still
spend so much to chase, deter, and punish what, if left alone, would
be only victimless crime?

Is it because the political class is confident that such problems in
their own families would be treated as generously as the problem in
Mayor Malloy's family has been treated and not as indifferently or
cruelly as the problem of the sad sack from Windham has been and
likely will be?

But it's probably too much to hope that those in authority in
Connecticut will acknowledge the obvious with the drug problem when
they can't acknowledge the obvious about state government's own
finances. The governor and the General Assembly settled belatedly on a
state budget only through contrivances and falsifications, and now,
just a month later, the contrivances and falsifications are bursting

State Comptroller Nancy Wyman estimates that the new budget may
produce a deficit of about a billion dollars, or 5 percent of its
$18.6 billion appropriation, because tax receipts continue to fall and
the budget assumes nearly $500 million in unspecified savings, double
the unspecified savings achieved in normal years.

This was all known when the legislature, controlled by the Democrats,
wrote what turned out to be the final budget and delivered it to the
governor, a Republican, who allowed it to become law without her
signature. They had worn each other out during the legislature's
regular session and long into a special session, and in the end their
objective was not to solve the budget problem and the bigger problem
of Connecticut's economic collapse but just to stop facing the problems.

The governor and legislature have simply abdicated. For all practical
purposes Connecticut now has no government, just a lot of feckless
people on the payroll, watching the world go by.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake