The following editorial appeared in the Fayetteville Observer:
They studied the state’s mental illness and drug abuse problems for 10 months and came up with 32 pages of recommendations.
The important part can be summed up in four words: more treatment, less jail.
What the 24 members of the Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Substance Abuse found is the wisdom they could have gleaned – and probably did – from any jailer: At least 80 percent of the people behind bars got there through some combination of substance abuse and mental illness. Early intervention and treatment could halt a lot of criminal careers.
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Fifty years into our nation’s trillion-dollar, thoroughly failed War on Drugs, our elected leaders are finally seeking new solutions. Sadly, it took an epidemic of opioid drug abuse that has killed thousands of upper-middle-class white kids – our legislators’ and governors’ next-door neighbors – to open discussions and encourage new ways of treating young offender-abusers.
Across the country, communities are attacking crime, homelessness and other problems by treating the illnesses at their core.
And we’re proud to see Cumberland County leading the way in North Carolina, which is why Gov. Pat McCrory came to town Thursday with Health and Human Services Secretary Rick Brajer and N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin to accept the task force’s report and kick off a strong response to it.
The county has already started specialized courts for drug abusers and troubled veterans. Both attempt to move offenders through treatment instead of incarceration, and both are succeeding.
That is the philosophy behind the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program that the Fayetteville Police Department will launch soon. We’re the first city in the South to use the program, which moves low-level drug offenders, prostitutes and others into treatment programs instead of arresting them.
All of those initiatives are hamstrung by the state’s shortage of treatment facilities. The governor has requested $30 million in recurring funds for the programs that the task force has proposed. The House has budgeted $30 million, but in nonrecurring funds, which simply isn’t enough. We’re grateful for any assistance we get for treatment initiatives, but the state is dramatically underestimating the size of the problem.
Perhaps the legislative approach will change, though, as lawmakers see what happens when these programs succeed: The revolving doors to our prisons turn slower, more people live productive lives and the cost of corrections programs drops. That’s a win-win-win formula.
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