Last summer, Eddie Edwards wrote at SeacoastOnline.com about the need to change how we deal with the problem of opioid abuse, relating his personal story of having seen the problem firsthand in his own family, and building on his experience in law enforcement.
When I think about crime and punishment, I often reflect on a quote by Fredrick Douglass, “It is easier to build stronger children, than to repair broken men.”
I’ve seen the ravages of addiction firsthand my entire life. As a young man, I had a front row seat to my father’s crack cocaine addiction as well as his involvement in the illegal drug trade. I also witnessed my older brother pursue a similar path of violence and drug dealing. Predictably, my brother’s violent drug life led him to a prison cell, twice. He is currently serving a prison sentence of 15 years to life for murder.
I’m a former police chief and previously led the N.H. Liquor Commission Enforcement Division. I spent the first five years of my criminal justice career as a correctional officer. I began my public service in the United States Navy. It’s hard to explain how there could be such different outcomes in one family, but I do know one thing: based on my life and my career, I believe we must take a completely different approach to crime and punishment if we are ever to get a handle on our society’s drug epidemic.
The number of drug overdoses in New Hampshire is shocking. Again, we are on pace to set a new record for lives lost to addiction. While I applaud efforts to expand drug courts, treatment and rehabilitation for those throughout our state who are fighting substance abuse, I think we are missing out on an opportunity to help transform a truly captive audience.
We fully recognize drug addiction as a public health issue; however we address it as a crime. I am sure you have heard the phrase, “we can’t arrest or prosecute our way out of this issue.” Yet, we spend more on the criminal justice solutions than the most effective solutions- prevention and treatment.
For example, the $13 million in cost for parole revocations in N.H. A large percentage of those are for drug or alcohol related crimes (non-violent). We seem to lack the moral courage to address what is driving our state’s inmate population. According to N.H. prison officials, 85 percent of inmates in New Hampshire are there because of mental health or substance abuse issues. As of 2014, our state’s prison population is the fastest growing in the United States at 8.2 percent. Over $200 million is spent during our biennial budget to incarcerate approximately 3,000 inmates.
This is not a political right or left issue. It is about right and wrong.
Read the whole thing.