Tough on Drugs

Prisons are filled with users who pick jail over probation and treatment. Welcome to Round 42 of the war on drugs.

Attorney Aaron Howard agrees. "I tell the client, "If you're not prepared to change the way you live and the people you know, you're not likely to make it.' "

After successfully negotiating the SAFPF program, probationers face another terror: supporting the probationer lifestyle.

"The people we represent come from a poorer background," says attorney Riddhi Desai. "Probation is expensive. There's the $140 supervision fee. The fines to be paid off. The random urinalysis they must undergo almost every month; they must pay for that." Costs usually average out to $100 a month, she says.

Judge Jan Krocker has a good program to send drug offenders to, if she can just get them to go.
Deron Neblett
Judge Jan Krocker has a good program to send drug offenders to, if she can just get them to go.

"These are people who do not have $200 to get out of jail on bond," she says. "And people don't want to be in jail." Once in the probation system, they are at the mercy of the probation officer who supervises them, the people who do the drug testing and the judge. "Any one person complaining about them could wipe out all they've tried to do and start them back up."


While many folks around the country say it's frightening that we incarcerate so many people for drugs, Kaylynn Williford, chief prosecutor in Judge Krocker's courtroom, flips that argument on its back. What's frightening to her, she says, is that we have a lot of violent crimes committed because someone was high on drugs or was breaking into someone's house to get money for drugs. Drug use is often cited by victims as the reason someone attacked them, the assistant district attorney says.

"It's not my job as a prosecutor to fix everyone," says Williford. It is her job, she says firmly, to put people in prison who break the law.

Yet it's a mistake to just dismiss Williford as a knee-jerk prosecutor, intent only on her conviction record. In court one day last week, she made a plea for a drug offender to receive a second chance, and she was doing more of the talking to the judge than the defendant's own attorney. She sees some grays; she remains rigid, however, in her belief that people need to accept responsibility for their own actions and accept the punishment due them.

"You choose to take those drugs, and you hurt someone because of it," she says. Her philosophy: Refuse drug treatment, great, go into prison and go cold turkey. At least you're not out on Harris County streets with drugs.


No attorney, judge or parent can force a defendant to opt for the SAFPF program. For the $1,600-a-person program to work, like all programs for addicts, those enrolled have to be committed to changing, Krocker and many others say. Besides, putting someone in a program who is disruptive just makes it difficult for others in the group to make any progress and can endanger the personnel running the program, says Williford.

While inmates can get drug treatment in Texas state prisons, Rich says only the Kyle unit offers a therapeutic drug program. And in any case, there's no incentive like probation revocation to keep a prisoner going to those counseling sessions.

So what's the solution? Carter says he would like to see an alternative to jail or prison. Desai says she thinks all drug offenders should be forced into mandatory treatment whether they go to jail or not. A lot of people are in denial, she says, and they need help to face what they're really doing.

"Many people say, "I don't have any problem with drugs. It's just I can't take the test today,' " Desai says.

Although she believes violators should have their probation revoked, sending first-time drug offenders on to prison in Texas isn't working, Desai says. "What we are doing, we're writing them off when we send them to TDC or the state. When he gets out, he's just going to come back to the only thing he knows. A lot of people come back."

Judge Krocker is a conservative Republican who believes in the war on drugs. "To sit here day after day, to see the cruel things that people do while on drugs.People can't work. They can't take care of their families. They lie, steal. It's a tragedy. We need to stop it." At the same time, she can't get people to agree to enroll in the kind of program she believes stands a good chance of stopping the recycling.

Going cold turkey for six months or a year in prison isn't solving the drug problem. The state sounds like it has come up with a great treatment plan, but if many first-time offenders won't go to it, then we're not getting where we want to be. We have a probation system that deals sternly with people, using up most of their resources of time and money. It hits hardest and most often at the poor rather than the rich, who have their private clinics to turn to for retooling sessions.

This is the classic conflict between the rights of the individual and the rights of society. It isn't desirable to have drug addicts out in our communities unable to take care of themselves or their children, stealing money, endangering other people. Society is not served by that. But let's also recognize that everyone who's caught doing drugs isn't an addict, isn't stealing and attacking other people.

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