Drug Charges! Drug Charges! Drug Charges! For Criminal Defense Cases, Where Are the Treament Centers?

A man charged with a nonviolent criminal felony charge sits in jail in Kane County. He knows his drug history situation, but it’s hard for him to admit it to others. He’s a young black man, poor with a poor education, and wonders whether anyone will believe him about his drug addiction or, even worse, whether anyone will care about a poor, young black man facing drug charges. He weaves and he bobs and comes up with every other excuse until I ask him, What’s really going on here? He cries and wants to run out of the client meeting room at the jail because he’s crying. He stops and says he has nothing. Nothing until he stops using drugs – he wants to know if I’ll listen, and if I will help him.

I am his criminal defense lawyer, hired to represent him on his nonviolent felony criminal charges. It is my job to help him, I admit that, but I hope people accept I have a passion beyond the legal fees. Sometimes with lawyer jokes abounding, it’s hard for people to believe. But you know what? – it wasn’t just me giving a damn that this man got his chance for the first time in his life – it was the prosecutor in Kane County too. The Kane County prosecutor offered prison at first, but then agreed to the TASC program (Treatment Alternative for Safe Communities) after looking at the man’s history, the police report, and his plea for help. The TASC evaluator agreed. Moreover, the Judge agreed, and gave my client not just lip service, but a talk that showed how much the court wanted him to make it.

    After delivering the paperwork to TASC and the probation department that day, I contacted TASC to learn my client was 4th on the treatment center waiting list. Great news for my client, and I went to the jail to tell him so.

     But two months later – he’s still in jail at about seventy taxpayer dollars a day! No calls, no mention there’s a problem. What’s wrong with TASC?

     Here’s what’s wrong – severe cutbacks in treatment centers as well as in TASC personnel. Experienced, hard-working, caring people losing their jobs; treatment centers losing bed spaces or closing down altogether. To those who say, Good, put all those criminals in jail, I point out that it costs $24,000 to $27,000 a year to house someone in prison, where treatment programs are extremely limited and where the person is released the same way he or she went in, without at least an opportunity to reach recovery. If people think that jail ought to “cure” addiction, then they do not know a thing about addiction. Besides, the percentage of people this country has in prison for non-violent offenses ought to embarrass everyone.

     I am all for people making money (hey, I’m a lawyer, after all, right?) but whether it’s treatment for the addicted, the mentally ill, the aged, the wounded Veteran, the child in need, well, I just don’t understand what we’re doing these days. Perhaps out-of-sight, out-of-mind, provides comfort to some. But this country’s roots began with the motto – E Pluribus Unum,  From Many, One, about a hundred and fifty years before In God We Trust made its appearance. Has that been forgotten?

     Like wounds, physical ailments, mental health difficulties, unemployment, and, of course, the aging process itself, addiction can happen to any of us or the loved ones around us. These days we all seem to be waiting for the money that’s there in the private industry to be invested in our own country, while political gamesmanship and name-calling continues unabated, with some media people getting wealthy off just that. In the meantime, people suffer; people die. Shouldn’t we strive for better?

     After this criminal defense lawyer learned what I could, and called who needed to be called, and faxed and mailed what needed to be faxed and mailed, I sat down with my client, said my piece, apologized, and asked him to say his piece. I think he’s okay, and still has the right attitude to receive treatment. I hope so. Only time will tell. I’m not writing all this to tell you how to vote or which political party you should align with. Instead, I’m just putting the facts out there about one fellow human being, his situation, and the fact that any one of us or someone we may know, may be in the same situation one day.

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