Forced Rehab for Horry County Defendants?

The Horry County Solicitor says that “he’s working on a program that would force people addicted to drugs to go through detox and counseling while in jail.”

Horry County, like many areas of the country, is suffering from an opioid crisis. The solicitor’s statements recognize that addiction is the heart of the problem and it must be addressed. Sending addicts to prison because they are addicted is a cruel and senseless method of dealing with addiction. It destroys a person’s life and tears apart families. When it is possible to help a person to escape active addiction, remain in the community, find employment, and get an education, we are building up our society instead of tearing it down.

I appreciate that this project may still be in the planning stages and that the solicitor’s statements did not include all of the program’s details, but there are some concerns that need to be addressed.

First of all, who is an addict? “…[The solicitor] says as soon as an addict is arrested, they’re getting treatment and counseling.” How are you going to determine who is an addict and therefore must be forced into treatment? Is every defendant going to be screened by a mental health professional as they are arrested? Is every person arrested for heroin going to be presumed an addict? Cocaine? Marijuana? Alcohol offenses?

Can we force a person to undergo treatment for addiction prior to a conviction on the underlying offense? The solicitor says, “We can’t send them all to prison, but we can put them in forced rehab through jail…” I haven’t looked at case law on this issue. I do know that federal courts and some state courts require drug screens as a condition of pre-trial release. Can you deprive a defendant of their freedom through forced rehab prior to a conviction? With few exceptions, a pre-trial defendant is entitled to a bond and pre-trial release.

Is this a 90-day jail sentence for drug defendants? The article states that the program will require each addict to complete a 90-day detox program. The treatment will be provided at the jail. So, are we going to “sentence” each “addict” to a 90-day jail sentence before they have been tried and convicted? It’s starting to sound like every person charged with a drug crime will be “sentenced” to 90 days in jail before they have had a trial.

The solicitor says,”…and if they don’t want to do that, they can sit there for their whole sentence.” That’s a confusing statement. Defendants are entitled to pre-trial release. They do not have a sentence before they have been convicted of a crime. You can require treatment as a part of a pretrial intervention program like PTI or Drug Court which is agreed to by the defendant. A court can give a defendant the option of completing a treatment program or receiving a prison sentence after a plea or conviction at trial, by suspending a prison sentence upon successful completion of probation and drug treatment. But, before a person is convicted and sentenced, they are not serving a sentence. They are innocent until they have been proven guilty or they plead guilty.

This is not like Drug Court. The article says that this is a “modified form of [the] drug court the Horry County Solicitor’s Office already has in place.” Defendants agree to drug court as part of a guilty plea. According to the solicitor’s statements, this 90-day “sentence” occurs prior to plea or conviction, is not a pre-trial intervention program, and it is involuntary.

In contrast, Drug Court participants do not remain in jail. They are released upon their agreement to attend drug court meetings, 12-step meetings, counseling, and to maintain employment or enroll in school. All things that are reasonably necessary as part of any recovery program. This new program doesn’t sound anything like drug court.

Does this really save money for the county? The solicitor says this program will save the county money: “In fact, if we reduce the time that a person has to stay in pre-trial, it may actually save the county some money.” Except, it sounds like he is saying that they are going to mandate that drug defendants remain in jail for at least 90 days pretrial instead of bonding out. If someone has the ability to bond out of jail and the county is forcing them to stay in jail for 90 days pre-trial, that’s not saving money for the county. Unless there is grant money coming in to cover the expense of forcing drug defendants to stay in jail?

Is forced treatment effective? It can be. Most addicts do not get clean the first time they try whether it is forced or voluntary. A person who is forced into treatment may hear or see something that stays with them or that motivates them. If they do not get clean immediately after the forced treatment (most addicts won’t), the seed has been planted and they will gain the tools that they will need to stay clean when the window of opportunity opens again.

On the other hand, I can’t imagine how a jail environment can be conducive to recovery. Recovery for most people involves family, employment, education, community involvement, and an active support group. It involves learning and practicing how to avoid people, places, and things in real-world situations like on the job, at school, or around friends and family. None of this is present in the county jail.

I think it makes sense for the courts to give suspended sentences to addicts, following a conviction, where they are required to complete probation and drug counseling as needed in lieu of serving time in prison. Announcing that all addicts will serve a mandatory 90-day sentence before they have been convicted of a crime sounds troublesome at best, and I hope that the solicitor will clarify his statements about how this program is going to operate. While the rest of the country is finally moving towards ending pre-trial incarceration, is Horry County now trying to make pre-trial incarceration mandatory for drug defendants?


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