Friday, January 4, 2013

Illinois Takes Positive Step In Dealing with First-Time Drug Offenders

More than one hundred new laws went into effect on January 1, 2013, in the state of Illinois, and while some are restrictive, others show compassion and forward-thinking by our legislators. Public Act 97-889, now in effect, allows a first-time offender charged with or convicted of possession of less than 15 grams of methamphetamine (also known simply as “meth” or “crystal meth”) to receive treatment in a drug abuse program rather than a prison term.

This is excellent news for those who exercise poor judgment and find themselves either charged or convicted with possession in this amount, but also for advocacy groups and Illinois taxpayers. Countless studies have shown that people with substance abuse problems are unable to receive the help they need inside prison walls, and often enough, drug problems are exacerbated while one serves jail or prison time. Advocacy groups have long supported getting drug offenders treatment for their underlying addiction that causes them to abuse controlled substances like methamphetamine, marijuana,cocaine, prescription narcotics, and more. They argue that prison time does not address the actual problem and is the reason we see high rates of recidivism, with people becoming trapped in the revolving door of the criminal incarceration system.

Not only do first-time offenders and advocacy groups have reason to breathe a sigh of relief over this new law, but Illinois taxpayers benefit as well. The rates of incarceration for minor drug possession – especially among African American and Latino men – are disproportionately high, as are rates of recidivism. What generally happens is that a young man is convicted of possession of a small amount of a controlled substance and incarcerated. After the sentence is served, the young man is released but, because his underlying substance abuse problem was not addressed or treated, soon finds himself returning to the object of his addiction. He is charged again, and with a prior conviction on his record, it is quite easy to send him back to jail or prison, depending on how he is charged.

This unfortunate cycle repeats itself to the detriment of the many. The young man’s life effectively comes to a halt, and the lives of his family members are similarly disrupted during the course of his absence. Society in general loses the benefit of one of its productive members, and Illinois taxpayers are stuck footing the bill for yet another cog in the bloated prison system. Prison overcrowding is a huge problem nationwide, and there are many people in the system, like first time drug offenders convicted of possessing relatively small amounts of a controlled substance, for whom the argument for incarceration is not particularly compelling.

Thankfully, Illinois lawmakers have stepped up and chosen to address the treatment vs. incarceration problem and have sided with getting people the help they need. Hopefully, with educational programs, support groups, and treatment, Illinois can help these individuals deal with their addictions so they can resume their lives, steer clear of the justice system, and continue being productive, upstanding members of the community.

If you or a loved one is currently dealing with a criminal investigation or prosecution on the misdemeanor or felony level, time is of the essence. Contact the Law Offices of Raymond G. Wigell, Ltd., at (708) 481 – 4800. Attorneys are available 24/7, and the first consultation is free. With our 37 years of experience, let us help you in your time of need.

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