Nashville — North Carolina’s Nashville, 45 miles east of Raleigh — has a police chief who is changing the way law enforcement deals with drug addicts, who might ordinarily be arrested and put away.
Chief Thomas Bashore has seen the consequences of drug abuse, and he’s come to see that conventional law enforcement solutions, meaning arrest and imprisonment, don’t seem to come to a constructive end. Addicts go in for a while, come out, get reacquainted with drugs, go back in.
But now Bashore has instituted a program in his community whereby people who are seeking treatment for their addictions can come to his police department and get help. They’ll be assigned to a community volunteer who will take them to a medical facility to start treatment and recovery.
“It doesn’t matter if a person comes to the Police Department in possession of paraphernalia, or even drugs,” he said. “If that person comes to seek treatment, they will not be arrested.”
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The politically popular position to take when it comes to drugs is: lock them up. The federal government has seen the folly in that. It has revised sentencing guidelines for nonviolent federal drug offenders which has resulted in earlier releases for many.
At the highest point of tough sentencing for drugs, over half the inmates in federal prisons were drug offenders, and a significant percentage of those were nonviolent offenders. That meant prisons were getting overcrowded, and some petty criminals — charged with drug possession crimes — were being given the opportunity during long terms behind bars to become not-so-petty criminals.
Making drug users feel as if the police station can be a way to find freedom from addiction instead of a place of incarceration means there will be a better chance those people will become productive citizens. That saves society the expense of taking care of them in prisons, and it may well save their families — period.
Drugs remain a serious problem, but the lack of creative ways to help people is contributing to that problem. Bashore is a true public servant, who sees it as his duty to help those he is sworn to serve with compassion, with solutions.