The “war on drugs” has failed – we have managed to become the world’s leader in number of citizens that we keep locked up in prison, in the process destroying families and perpetuating the culture and conditions that lead to drug abuse and drug-related violence. I think that we need to stop locking people up for drug offenses and instead focus resources on violent crimes and, as relates to drugs, focus resources on education, prevention, and treatment. Regardless, once we have realized that the mass incarceration approach is not working, we are insane to keep doing it.
in 2010, soon after being nominated as our district’s U.S. Attorney, Bill Nettles was willing to try something new and looked to a program that had been successful over the long term in High Point, N.C., called the “Drug Market Intervention Initiative.” He began the program in North Charleston, but has continued the experiment in other towns, now including Conway, S.C. Although high level drug dealers are still prosecuted and sent to prison, the program identifies lower level dealers, and, rather than putting them in jail, offers them an alternative: steady employment, drug treatment, education, even help with transportation.
The targets of the program are confronted with the evidence against them at an “intervention” with police, family members, religious leaders and other members of the community, and given a choice between prison or participating in the program. The participants are not arrested but are monitored – if they go back to dealing, pre-signed warrants are served on them and they are prosecuted. If they take advantage of the help that is offered, they stay out of prison, their record stays clean, and they have a new chance at life.
“When you declare a ‘war on drugs,’ the community sees the cops as the occupiers, and the cops see the people in the community as enemy combatants,” Nettles said. “Well, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.”
Our leaders need to be willing to try new ideas – the public needs to understand that the “War on Drugs” is a war on people, and that it has failed. When the public understands that being “tough on crime” is not working, at least as applied to drug crimes, and that our communities are torn apart not only by the drug trade, but by the government’s approach to the drug trade, then our legislators may become more willing to make changes. Elected Solicitors and elected representatives in the legislature are only going to go as far as the public lets them, if they want to keep their jobs.
Programs like this just seem like common sense to me – why would we put someone in a cage, hardening them and tearing apart their family, when instead we could provide them with a job, health insurance, education, treatment, a chance? Is it about money? Which costs more?
I applaud our U.S. Attorney for pushing through this program, and Jimmy Richardson, our circuit solicitor, for supporting it. I may be pessimistic, but I predict it will be short lived regardless of its success, and we won’t see many more innovative programs like it, unless the voting public learns about it and gets behind it.