Editorial: Crime and just punishment
July 2, 2011
With the penal system sometimes leaning toward jail and prison sentences for crimes relating to addictions, it’s time society pursue more effective options, like rehabilitation and treatment, to reduce repeat offenses and cost. That’s a challenge anywhere, and especially on the local level, making prevention efforts designed for youth all the more important.
First, some words about what this editorial is not.
It's not an opinion requesting society be softer on hard crimes. It's not advocating for lesser punishments for violent offenders or those who shamelessly peddle drugs.
It's not a piece pushing for less law enforcement officers out in communities keeping families protected and safe.
Today's opinion isn't calling for any of those things.
Rather, this is an editorial that hopes for a change in how our society operates the penal system, specifically for those whose crimes are nonviolent but connected to addictions, like alcohol and drug use.
Too many people, the Editorial Board contends, in this community and many others, are spending time behind bars for offenses that were undertaken to feed dependency.
The cost of punishment is generally high, for both taxpayers who fund the problem and offenders who can easily slip through the cracks and fall back into repeat behavior once released.
Our own community here in Craig and Moffat County has been a microcosm of this before.
Once upon a time, methamphetamine abuse ravaged this community. Through the commendable efforts of many people — community members, organizations and law enforcement, to cite a few examples — a dent has been banged into the problem. It's not gone, this insidious drug, but it's certainly not as prevalent as it once was.
But, when the issue was more heightened, how many people went away for an issue that could have been treated more successfully had it been identified as a health care problem rather than a criminal one?
How many people repeated once they got out? How high was the financial burden this community carried? And, perhaps the most important question, is there a better way?
The Editorial Board contends there is, and the method stems from more treatment options for issues like mental health and addiction. That's not a new idea — many local residents and officials have conceded before that our community is short on options in these two key areas.
However, without an influx of funding, the level of care needed may never come to fruition in Craig and Moffat County. Given this, the problem must be addressed much earlier.
Our community has done a good job addressing issues like alcohol and drugs through the school system and other programs. This effort geared toward prevention — toward education not handcuffs — has to continue, bolstered even.
Ingraining the message now, before a young person has to make a choice later, can mean all the difference between a productive life that complements society, and one that routinely offends against it.
It's the best tactic at our disposal and one that needs more emphasis and implementation.