HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Mayor Jackson Doesn't Want Drug-Paraphernalia Charges To Be Felonies
Pubdate: Tue, 11 Nov 2008
Source: Plain Dealer, The (Cleveland, OH)
Copyright: 2008 The Plain Dealer
Author: Mark Puente
Bookmark: (Paraphernalia)


No Felony In Paraphernalia Cases

People caught in Cleveland with drug residue in pipes and syringes
will no longer be charged with a felony beginning early next year,
Mayor Frank Jackson said Monday.

The goal is to get addicts treatment without saddling them with a
felony that could hamper them in turning their lives around, Jackson

He warned that the new protocol will not provide a free pass to
criminals and that police will still aggressively pursue drug arrests.

But the new policy gives offenders a chance to treat their addiction,
Jackson said.

"If people have a couple chances, they better take advantage of it,"
the mayor said.

The city is finalizing the policy with the Greater Cleveland Drug
Court and city prosecutor's office so they aren't burdened when the
change is implemented. Jackson plans to ask the county drug-abuse
board for additional money to beef up treatment programs.

Drug abusers face felony possession charges if caught with trace
amounts of drugs in a crack pipe or heroin syringe. Community
activists have said for years that similar cases from the suburbs are
charged as misdemeanors, leading to inequity in how justice is delivered.

Cleveland is the only large city in Ohio that charges
drug-paraphernalia cases as felonies, Jackson said.

About 6,000 people face felony drug charges every year in the

Jackson expects 1,200 to 1,500 of those cases to fall under the new

Robberies, thefts and burglaries should drop because people in
treatment aren't stealing to fuel their addictions, he said.

"This is about helping people and stopping the behavior that is
destroying our neighborhoods," Jackson added.

The city will adopt a progressive system, similar to a three-strike
law and drunken-driving laws.

On the first offense, a user will be charged with having drug
paraphernalia, a second-degree misdemeanor. A second offense will be
charged as a first-degree misdemeanor. Defendants charged with either
of these offenses could be eligible to have their cases diverted to
Cleveland's drug court.

A third arrest will be a felony offense, which would send the case to
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court for a drug-abuse charge.

Charles See, director of the Community Re-Entry Program at the
Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry in Cleveland, applauded the city's plan.

"It's an excellent move," See said. "It has nothing to do with being
soft on crime."

See added that drug addiction is a disease that is best dealt with
through treatment, not jail. But if people still abuse the drugs, they
can face more-serious charges, he said.

Robert Tobik, Cuyahoga County's chief public defender, said the new
policy would ease some congestion in Common Pleas Court and provide
more treatment options for the most-serious offenders.

"It would be a good thing," he said.

Jackson said he has been considering the policy change for some time.
The mayor lauded The Plain Dealer's recent series on racial
disparities in felony drug prosecutions in Cuyahoga County for giving
the public a better understanding of the issue. But he stressed that
for years community activists have argued that low-level drug
offenders - regardless of race - need treatment, not felony records.

Drug and alcohol addicts come from all races and communities, Jackson
said. He stressed the new policy is not directed only at Clevelanders
but also the suburban addicts who scour the city for dope.

"It's not a race issue," he said. "Everybody will be treated the
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