Pubdate: Tue, 21 Jun 2005
Source: Post and Courier, The (Charleston, SC)
Copyright: 2005 Evening Post Publishing Co.
Author: Sharon Fratepietro
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Thank you for exposing the critical lack of substance abuse treatment 
availability in South Carolina prisons in your June 12 article by 
Glenn Smith. The state's current policy on illegal drug use addresses 
drug addiction as a crime rather than a health issue. After years of 
this policy, it is clear that drug use and abuse continue unabated, 
though our legislators seem to be expecting a different result.

I testified at a couple of S.C. legislative subcommittee hearings 
recently as new bills related to drug use were being considered. One 
bill offered time-off sentences for inmates who participated in 
prison substance abuse programs. I pointed out that such programs are 
usually not available in prison (Department of Corrections head Jon 
Ozmint has said only 1 percent of those in need can participate). I 
asked the subcommittee to amend the bill to fund and mandate 
treatment for all who need it in prison, and also in local jails so 
to prevent many people from going to prison in the first place. The 
legislators agreed more treatment programs are needed but told me the 
state cannot afford them. But apparently the state can afford to 
incarcerate addicted inmates.

I also commented at a hearing on a different bill to eliminate the 
disparities in sentencing between powder and crack cocaine offenses. 
I was shocked to see the lack of preparation and thoughtfulness by 
committee participants. Though three of the five committeemen were 
attorneys, none knew the current drug offense penalties, and they had 
to send a committee assistant out to get a copy of the current law. 
The proposed bill did equalize the crack and powder penalties, but it 
also increased the older, lower penalties for powder. I was told that 
the rationale was to "split the difference" between the old 
penalties. I commented that those additional, punitive and 
ineffective years in prison would affect real people and their 
families and that the taxpayers would have to bear the financial cost.

I suggested that funding and mandating treatment programs in prison 
would accomplish far more. The committee expressed no interest in the 
human dimension of the law, although one legislator did agree more 
treatment is needed. Finally, the Legislature passed a law requiring 
that most health insurance policies cover mental illness equally with 
physical illness but only after removing alcohol and drug addiction 
from categories covered. The concern was that addiction coverage 
might make the policies too expensive. I guess it's cheaper to send 
addicted folks to prison once you catch them committing a crime to get drugs.

Countries like Holland that legalize marijuana for personal use find 
that the use of harder drugs goes down. Countries like Canada that 
offer safe injection sites for hard drug users find that crime goes 
down. States like Maryland that legalize needle exchange programs 
have seen a drop in HIV/AIDS rates.

South Carolina needs to do a major study on the efficacy of our 
current drug policy. Gov. Mark Sanford should take the lead on this 
critical issue.



South Carolinians for Drug Law Reform 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth