Pubdate: Tue, 24 May 2016
Source: News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
Copyright: 2016 The News and Observer Publishing Company
Note: The following editorial appeared in the Fayetteville Observer:


They studied the state's mental illness and drug abuse problems for
10 months and came up with 32 pages of recommendations.

The important part can be summed up in four words: more treatment,
less jail.

What the 24 members of the Governor's Task Force on Mental Health
and Substance Abuse found is the wisdom they could have gleaned -
and probably did - from any jailer: At least 80 percent of the
people behind bars got there through some combination of substance
abuse and mental illness. Early intervention and treatment could halt
a lot of criminal careers.

Fifty years into our nationa's trillion-dollar, thoroughly failed War
on Drugs, our elected leaders are finally seeking new solutions.
Sadly, it took an epidemic of opioid drug abuse that has killed
thousands of upper-middle-class white kids - our legislator's and
governor's next-door neighbors - to open discussions and encourage
new ways of treating young offender-abusers.

Across the country, communities are attacking crime, homelessness and
other problems by treating the illnesses at their core.

And we're proud to see Cumberland County leading the way in North
Carolina, which is why Gov. Pat McCrory came to town Thursday with
Health and Human Services Secretary Rick Brajer and N.C. Supreme Court
Chief Justice Mark Martin to accept the task force's report and kick
off a strong response to it.

The county has already started specialized courts for drug abusers and
troubled veterans. Both attempt to move offenders through treatment
instead of incarceration, and both are succeeding.

That is the philosophy behind the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion
program that the Fayetteville Police Department will launch soon.
We're the first city in the South to use the program, which moves
low-level drug offenders, prostitutes and others into treatment
programs instead of arresting them.

All of those initiatives are hamstrung by the state's shortage of
treatment facilities. The governor has requested $30 million in
recurring funds for the programs that the task force has proposed. The
House has budgeted $30 million, but in nonrecurring funds, which
simply isn't enough. We're grateful for any assistance we get for
treatment initiatives, but the state is dramatically underestimating
the size of the problem.

Perhaps the legislative approach will change, though, as lawmakers see
what happens when these programs succeed: The revolving doors to our
prisons turn slower, more people live productive lives and the cost of
corrections programs drops. That's a win-win-win formula.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D