Recent Broward Law Blog Features

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sheriff Copped Out, But the County Must Fund In Custody Drug Treatment Programs

by Norm Kent

This week the county meets with the public on its budget for next year.

Regrettably, the Sheriff has not included Diversion Treatment Programs in his funding request to the County Commission. Told to cut his budget, he eliminated those treatment programs which aid in reducing the jail cap, and which he operated more for that purpose than out of altruism. As a consequence, those in custody treatment programs defense attorneys use to mitigate sentences for their clients are in serious jeopardy.

Add to that treatment programs, such as BARC, Broward Alcohol Rehab, are losing counselors. The more counselors you lose, the less clients you can intake. The consequence: the more addicts you leave without help.

The burden for these initiatives should probably come from the County Commission’s resources because the citizens we are helping are members of our family, they are our friends, they are our neighbors. I dare say that there is not a single one of us, either on the commission, or in our courtrooms, that has not been adversely impacted by drug abuse.

I dare say the percentage of success is smaller than we all would like them to be. Not everyone gets better. But the Torah teaches us ‘that he who saves a life it is as if he has saved the world.’ If we spend money on curing people today, we may have less property crimes tomorrow. If we spend money on these programs today, we may reduce jail costs tomorrow. Partly, we fund these programs because we are selfish, because we want to be safer. Partly, we fund them because we aspire to do good, and we know that our inner nature dictates it is honorable to give people a second chance.

Ultimately, where or why the funding comes is not as important as that the funding comes.

I know the County Commission and I know that in their heart of hearts they want to fund these programs. I know that as a society we all want rehabilitation to flourish and recidivism to diminish. That requires a sound fiscal investment in successful programs, such as ATACC, where clients remain in custody and in treatment; where they have a clean environment and strong inducement to get better. Freedom is a heavy price to pay, but it steers people in the right direction. If only they take the wheel.

The real test for the addict comes not in the jail but out on the streets after the program is ended and the doors to the community are opened. We need to insure we have given them the tools to turn away from the streets and the easy high which leads to a disastrous road. But it is also up to the addict to do better so he can become a partner in our society, instead of an inmate in our jails.

When you raise a child, you have to put away money for his bar mitzvah or wedding but you have to save for the unforeseen illness like pneumonia, or cancer, which I and some of you have gone through. When you govern a county, you plan for our schools and our theaters and our highways, but you set aside funds for the hurricanes, the calamities, and the catastrophies.

The sheriff capitulated a bit, copped out if you will, by turning this task back to County Commissioners, but truly it was theirs to begin with. I am not sure I want the Sheriff really operating drug treatment programs anyway. His job is to insure decent housing, humane treatment, normal recreation, safe incarceration, and proper medical care. That's enough.

But when you plan and design a jail, you cannot just provide hot meals and steel cots. You must take into account those living with illness, AIDS, and diseases; you must realize that those locked up are going to have mental health issues and emotional problems; that they are going to be alcoholics and dependent on drugs. We have more than just a constitutional and legal duty to serve this community.

We have a moral obligation you cannot allow the limitation of finances to ignore. For a county to not fund a drug program in a jail is the legal and moral equivalent of bringing a patient in a gurney to the emergency room and not having oxygen or a physician to treat him. You might as well have left him in the street because you are sentencing him to certain death.

If this County Commission chooses to be remembered instead for life, it will re-fund these programs in the next budget.

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