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Repetitive Cruel Jailing

A Message for Mayor Ben Walsh D-R-U-G—C-O-U-R-T & Attorneys and Judiciary

Dear Ben: Congratulations. You were a great candidate. Conventional wisdom among your opponent’s supporters, including myself, is that a Republican belief system will not accommodate what is really needed on so many levels to improve our lives.Especially the poor. You may be an exception and the opportunity is yours. I hope you have time to review this column. With you as an advocate this could easily take hold. It speaks of such deeds that comes only from our finest. It is necessary, it is tragically pioneering and a vital step toward embracing human justice in our legal system. Local citizens, many recently removed from childhood, languish in very sad, degrading and useless pain, as we debate. The first step begins the journey. I hope you will consider what I offer here and make it happen.      

There is no reasonable movement away from incarcerating people from applicable narcotics offenses. Young Misdemeanor drug offenders are sentenced over and over and over and over. They are not helped and often become criminalized.

I have come to know several of you over the years and I hope at these times that I have earned a regard that will give me your attention for this brief article. If you do read it, I believe you will consider these thoughts and perhaps take steps that will improve the fate and providence of your charge. I offer the difficulty and the solution. I am into my senior years. If one sees things with their best judgement tempered with compassion, the wisdom of age can have great value. This little column affords me a unique opportunity to share. I humbly offer you this wisdom, applying fair and missing insight as best as can be done with my abilities.

It seems to me that you should be the protectors of your elite profession. I believe this is central to the high esteem of your profession. Sometimes things need to be designed in a way that lights our inner beacon. That is my hope. It is rare and elite politicians, and those involved in law, more than any other that give value to all the crimson sacrifice that has protected our founding decency. When something this grave is in place you must, for your charge and for the honor of your days, use the intelligence and power available to you to change things.   

As you know, considerations that fall within the range of fighting Drugs and Drug addiction are extremely complex. From American saturation with drugs, to the southern border, to pharmaceuticals that reward Doctors for prescribing OxyContin for sniffles and muscle aches and everything in between. As I do not want to dilute this effort I am going to concentrate on one local grave inadequacy that we can change.

I am a former alcoholic. My drug was the worst in those days. It took me years to recover just from alcohol. And it took the strongest part of me to achieve this. I am 37 years removed from this pure hell where the beauty of being human is consumed by a force that chews that beauty to pieces. Today with the emergence of Heroin, alcohol has taken a back seat. Heroin is far more addictive and damaging than alcohol. It twists the mind and takes possession with an unprecedented grip. Thanks to American Pharmaceuticals death rates soared above 50,000 last year. Odd, none of those dealers are in jail. Such unprecedented unbalanced culpability. Sorry, it just makes me angry that they did this.

Heroin and serious drug addicts number in the millions. We jail most of them. Yet we have learned with certainty that penal consequence is cruel and inadequate for those whose plight falls within the true scope of addictive behavior. Incarceration among such wide and varied mitigating circumstance is not a solution. It is society grappling with itself while it inflicts cruel jailing on its people. -Especially our young.

Addicts are imbedded in a powerful drug culture. The seeds of recovery needs to be stirred and often planted, creating knowledge, and hope, and pathway until the fight is found inside. This vital step is a vital component in the series of emotional triggers that each individual must undergo at their own pace, until recovery is underway.

Strong people that have never weakened in a true or similar sense, sometimes strongly feel they cannot perceive how addiction can force one to do such things. When that happens it is tragic, as truth is removed in keeping with the strength of that thinking. Believe me, the awesome power of addiction is true. I have lived every wrenching, mind altered moment. You will go for the drug as your children pay the price. You will continue your pursuit knowing your career is on the line. You will use as your divorce is being filed. You will get your drug. Your job, your love, your friends, all that is good will leave you. You will still get your drug. Nothing will stop you except death or a wisdom inducing intervention that reaches that part of submerged good sense that is struggling to survive.

This article is largely about Judicial option and thinking, at often the absolute most critical and important moment in an addict’s life, (that moment before the Judge) that is currently not only being wasted but gravely harming the user even further. Please don’t take offense. This has nagged at the conscience of many of you. Those that legislate have not correctly embraced the heart and ramifications of the problem and have left you an alternative that most often does not apply. You often sense that value, fairness, justice and empathy are not served as confused people are sent to languish. Their moment with you is as important as a life a preserver is to someone drowning. Jail in most instances is like lining it with lead and sends them further into the pit of despair. This article is about how to give you options that are fair, and sensible, and urgent that provide hope and help.   

While researching for this article I found that Massachusetts has already taken a vital first step. They have embraced the reality that narcotics and alcohol addiction are a public health emergency and not a crime. Women who have substance abuse cases are no longer taken to criminal prison. They’re taken to civil commitment facilities. This is a first step on a much longer journey.

There is no reasonable movement away from incarcerating people from applicable narcotics offenses. Young Misdemeanor drug offenders are sentenced over and over and over and over. They are not helped and often become criminalized. “Judges need the option to sentence to a confinement rehab.” When legal avenue does not exist that prevents legal cruelty, one crucial component can make it happen: “Leaders”

Your profession is wisely and deservedly designed around an aurora of reverence and respect. You insure and enhance social justice and quality. You are the best of who we are and your deeds must reflect this acclaim. Anything that causes a departure from judicial fairness is unacceptable. “Fitting” compassion in the drug arena causes fairness rather than an unequal distribution of justice. And because the system does not give you the right tools your purpose and value in drug cases is often not only neutralized but your profession is reduced to playing a destructive role in already broken lives. This is a harsh and grave reality that cries from great suffering to be seen. Every second in jail that is undeserved diminishes all that is good.

Six months or a year in rehab would be priceless for a drug abuser. Whereas six months or a year in jail enhances criminality and self-loathing. The think tank should consider all of these ramifications. This can be done.

The following is idea. It is guideline. It is a way to get there. I was in the Green Berets. Actually, a good number in your profession have that kind of thinking. And it will require that kind of can do, elite, getting it done, failure is unacceptable attitude. I might add it helps tremendously to recognize that this kind of attitude is contagious and brings out the best in everyone and will enhance support with the key people in Government needed to makes this happen. The beauty of this idea is that you are highly respected. You have friendships and influence among our leaders. Many of you are our leaders. If you get a dozen or so of your peers on board and continue to expand people will listen. Your profession alone can achieve this. The goal: Develop and submit legislation to “Replace current drug incarceration law and practice locally and develop a confinement rehabilitation facility and option.” A jail only in terms of confinement.

What I am proposing here is that a group of Magistrates and/or Barristers develop a think tank for this purpose. Brainstorm how to determine appropriate need. Drug court is a wonderfully intended effort and does help some victims. Yet its value is gravely restrained by the complexity and difficulty of recovery. Only a small percentage of drug users or alcoholics are able to meet their demands. Failures are jailed, emotionally diminished and almost always offend again. And for them, nothing of value has been achieved. With drug and alcohol offense, every moment of confinement must embrace treatment. Many will be having their first experience in finding out how wrong drugs are. They have known the drug culture since birth and the dangers and wrongs have been couched in survival and coping. Many have never been exposed to another way of life. In any event, without intensive effort only a few percent of addicts recover. They desperately need this recovery experience to begin at sentencing. We need to develop a facility and make law compatible with recovery rather than punishment. This confinement facility should be built to embrace longer term confinements to accommodate associated crime and to better insure recovery. Six months or a year in rehab would be priceless for a drug abuser. Whereas six months or a year in jail enhances criminality and self-loathing.  The think tank should consider all of these ramifications. This can be done.      

Addicts are imbedded in a powerful drug culture. The seeds of recovery needs to be stirred and often planted, creating knowledge, and hope, and pathway until the fight is found inside. This vital step is a vital component in the series of emotional triggers that each individual must undergo at their own pace, until recovery is underway. For many it will be their only chance to avoid years of addiction as a social burden and usually an early death. If need and economics are compatible you may want to consider partnering with one or more other counties. If you are successful Central New York can be the beacon for others to seek state and or federal funding for rehab-facilities in lieu of jailing, designed around recovery and social assimilation.   

How this affects justice system employment will be a major question. Fortunately, this aspect of the idea can be met with great success and improvement. Prison guards may also work at the rehab facility. It would be invaluable to offer them specialized rehab training. There are those that are not attracted to the social work aspect. They should be utilized in the real criminal environment. Many will choose the rehab. This can be done not only protecting Sheriff’s and Correctional Guards but by providing attractive options that may also include specialty pay and at the same time offering varied suitable and needed skills to current employees.      

This is a promo for a YouTube video that addresses the very issue of how the system fails addicts, from an addicts perspective that provides some interesting insight.

In this space I can only hope to offer inspiring idea. The think tank made up of your peers will develop state of the art thinking and course.

Once the think tank is confident it has arrived at sound conclusions it is time to write legislation. On one hand you will be seeking funding. On the other you will be revising law compatible with this effort. The easier you make it for a legislator the better your chances. Too much peripheral idea can dilute the main thrust and could endanger passage. Legislation developed by a think tank from your profession will garner attention like no other. If you so decide, this will happen.

I would like to leave you with this. Much law is faulty or inadequate. Law is simply rules written by a self-interest lobby or a concerned or disgruntled legislator and either justly or unjustly passed. When in a position of power, I believe your responsibility is very high. The elite have obligation to maintain the standards that make them elite and make this a great land. The treatment of our citizens is the measure by which success is gauged. This will happen if someone decides this is the time to walk tall. All that is needed is Leaders, Effort and Compassion and Central New York can be the beacon for the finest that humans can be. (Please discuss this with your peers – As you know words die on the vine, less one man or woman begins an action.) Ben, if not you, who? Who cares about that lost young soul curled up in a weeping ball a jail cell?

Bill McClellan