Pubdate: Fri, 16 Mar 2012
Source: Daily Item (Sunbury, PA)
Copyright: 2012 The Daily Item
Author: Tricia Pursell


LEWISBURG - Legalize drugs, end modern prohibition. It's a message 
you don't expect to hear from a former police officer. But it's a 
mission to which Howard Wooldridge is dedicated. Wooldridge strongly 
advocates for legalization of drugs, with regulation. "Give these 
dangerous drugs the same rules as whiskey," he said. Next week will 
be the second time in three years he will share it with Valley residents.

Since his most recent visit, counties have embraced drug courts as 
alternatives to integrate drug treatment into sentencing. But the war 
on drugs continues unabated.

Case in point: A November drug sweep in Northumberland County netted 
104 suspects, many from in and around the city of Sunbury. Earlier 
this year, Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner noted that 
nonviolent offenders, including those involved in drug crimes, 
account for 39 percent of the inmates in state prison as the 
corrections system population swells.

There are 51,487 prisoners in Pennsylvania, with more than 2,100 
prisoners added during 2009. Each prisoner costs the state 
approximately $33,000 annually, for a total yearly cost of nearly 
$1.7 billion. A retired police detective, co-founder of Law 
Enforcement Against Prohibition" and executive director of Citizens 
Opposing Prohibition, Wooldridge will talk about decriminalizing 
marijuana and many other topics in several venues in Union, Snyder 
and Northumberland counties next week. Wooldridge invites the public 
to come and be informed, he said "that a 40-year running, trillion 
tax-dollar spending policy on the war on drugs -- drug prohibition -- 
has given us no return on that investment." The unintended 
consequences, he said, have been everything from funding terrorist 
groups to deaths and cartel takeovers in Mexico and Central America, 
and an explosion of gang violence. "Most importantly," he said, "our 
young people are suffering in two ways: we are not catching 
pedophiles in chat rooms because we're flying around in a helicopter, 
looking for a green plant." The current policy, he said, "has 
generated a job option for our young people to sell drugs." 
Statistics show, he added, that 1 million teenagers are employed from 
drugs, and every day, two to three of them are shot. "This is a 
tragedy of an immense scale," he said.

Wooldridge's visits are being sponsored and co-sponsored by the 
American Civil Liberties Union, Central Susquehanna Chapter, in 
Lewisburg. "It's a very timely subject," said ACLU chapter secretary 
David Young. "It's also an issue which would save taxpayers millions 
and millions of dollars.

It would be beneficial to all kinds of families whose sons or 
daughter or family members are in some way involved in using drugs." 
"It's more effective for everybody if we emphasize treatment instead 
of incarceration," he added. The evidence clearly shows the 
prohibition of drugs isn't working, Young said, and many 
Libertarians, conservatives and progressives agree. "What we have 
been doing is not working," he said. "There are other models that are 
more effective and less expensive." Northumberland County Judge 
Robert Sacavage said Drug Treatment Court is in its fifth year, and 
when compared to what could have been spent for incarceration, it has 
saved the county millions of dollars. "From my experience, there are 
some offenders who absolutely need to be chastened," he said, "and 
others who are candidates for treatment." To decide which, a detailed 
intake and analysis are taken by professionals assisting the court. 
Drug Court is reserved for Level 3 offenders, Sacavage said, "those 
who have at least one felony under their belt." First-timers are 
often sent to intermediate punishment programs, such as Accelerated 
Rehabilitative Disposition, keeping them out of jail. "We've always 
had drug crimes," Sacavage said. "They weren't invented 20 to 30 
years ago. They have been expanded and well-defined." New drugs are 
always being introduced, he said, such as bath salts last year, 
"which just came out of nowhere," he said. It's difficult for him to 
say that drug offenses shouldn't be punished. "People subject to 
addiction -- by their very nature are going to feed their habit," he 
said. "They are a one-person crime spree in the neighborhood," he 
said. "It graduates, no question." Though drug courts are doing some 
good, Wooldridge said it still does not take care of the problem. 
"Drug courts still require my profession to chase the Charlie Sheens 
of the world," he said, "and every time we chase a Charlie Sheen or 
Willie Nelson, we have less time for a drunk driver, less time for a 
pedophile." The job of law enforcement, he said, should be "100 
percent pure public safety." Personal safety of individuals, 
including those with drug addictions, he said, is the responsibility 
of family and friends. "The government can't fix stupid," he said. 
Wooldridge was a police officer in Michigan for 18 years, and retired 
as a detective. LEAP, the organization he co-founded in 2002, is made 
up of current and former members of the law enforcement and criminal 
justice communities who speak out about the failures of existing drug policies.

Their goals are to educate the public about these failures, and 
restore respect for police.
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