Drug programs smart crime prevention

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion at the Alabama Bar Association Conference on good judicial practices. It was quite evident that Shelby County is leading the way in solving major overcrowding problems with its drug court program.

Currently state studies show about 85 percent of child abuse and other criminal cases involve alcohol or drugs. What is even more disturbing is that these cases are taking up a great number of prison beds normally occupied by violent offenders. While it is politically popular to talk about &8220;locking them up and throwing away the key,&8221; the fact is this mentality only creates overcrowded jails that allow for more violent offenders to go free at the expense of creating space for non-violent first-time drug users.

This is an insane correctional system that is not tough on crime, but stupid about crime. Violent criminals should serve their full sentence and not be released because of overcrowding.

Drug courts in Shelby County have shown that by creating an intensive drug abuse program you can drastically reduce repeat offenders. The Shelby County Drug Court currently pays for about 80 percent of its own cost by requiring drug offenders to pay for their own rehabilitation.

Should people who break the law be punished for their crime? Yes. Should we have a system that works to prevent someone from repeating their crime? Absolutely.

Not only does the drug court mandate personal responsibility, it also provides an avenue for people to clean their lives up. It not only frees up prison space for violent offenders, it also assures those committing violent crimes stay in prison longer as opposed to being released to reduce jail overcrowding.

I have always been an advocate for a tough criminal justice system. While I still believe in the necessity in strong punishment for violent criminals, I also believe we must find a way to deal with the ever-growing drug abuse problem and prison overcrowding. Many counties are now creating drug courts to model the system we have because it works so well.

This shows the forward thinking and leadership our county legal system provides. We should be proud of the way we are cleaning up the drug problem in our community and making violent offenders serve their full jail sentence.

Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) is a state representative for the 49th District