Frankfort, KY - The president of the Kentucky Sheriffs’ Association, recent past-president of the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police and commissioners of the state police and corrections are endorsing Governor Ernie Fletcher’s plan to address the Commonwealth’s drug problem.
At a press conference Thursday, Aug. 25, Governor Fletcher announced his comprehensive strategy to decrease substance abuse through a balance of prevention-education, treatment and enforcement, and that a new agency, the Office of Drug Control Policy, had been created to coordinate those efforts.
The governor’s plan, which is based on recommendations of the 51-member Statewide Drug Control Assessment Summit, calls for increasing treatment and drug courts, decreasing waiting periods for admittance to existing treatment programs, coordinating strategies for more uniform prosecution and outcome-based drug prevention-education, opening the lines of communication between law enforcement agencies and restructuring drug task forces.
In supporting the governor’s plan, Maysville Police Chief Van Ingram said, “There is a lack of consistency among the state’s drug task forces. The need for drug task forces and their value is beyond question, but a more organized, efficient, unified approach is needed. This can be accomplished.”
Ingram, who is recent past-president of the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police and was a Summit member, also talked about the collaborative approach and treatment aspect of the governor’s plan.
“It was a great honor and a tremendous learning process as we traveled the state hearing testimony from practitioners in the areas of law enforcement, substance abuse treatment and prevention-education,” he said. “Some of the most powerful testimony, though, came from citizens that spoke of having family members, or they themselves had substance abuse problems but could not access treatment. The reasons were varied but cost and availability was the recurring theme. As the Summit progressed in its work, it became obvious that a multidisciplinary approach is the only possible solution to curbing Kentucky’s drug dependency issues.
“Drug courts and their documented success represented some of the good news we heard throughout the process, but a lack of funding and resources to expand and create new drug courts represented the downside. The drug court approach that requires law enforcement, treatment and courts to all work together seemed to be the best example of what can be accomplished with this type of approach.”
Daviess County Sheriff Keith Cain, who is president of the Kentucky Sheriffs’ Association and was a Summit member, said he backed Governor Fletcher’s plan as well.
“Law enforcement is an essential component in decreasing the drug problem, but it cannot do it alone,” Sheriff Cain said. “As set out in the governor’s plan, Kentucky needs more treatment to help those who are addicted to substances and effective prevention-education to keep some people from using. Without enough treatment and prevention-education, so many citizens who use drugs will just keep ending up in law enforcement’s hands. It’s a cycle that we must try to stop.”
Sheriff Cain also said that he strongly agrees with the portion of the plan pertaining to increasing communication between law enforcement agencies about substance abuse issues.
“Drugs are a statewide problem; it doesn’t stop at city and county lines,” he said. “We need to work together more to get rid of this problem that is ruining the lives of so many people in our communities.”
Kentucky State Police Commissioner Mark Miller, who was a Summit member, also said he supports Governor Fletcher’s substance abuse plan.
“It is an excellent tool that provides a unified approach to the state’s drug abuse problem,” Commissioner Miller said. “It will help KSP to better target its efforts and apply its resources more efficiently and effectively for positive results. It will result in lasting solutions for safer and healthier communities. I look forward to working with law enforcement, prevention, education and treatment agencies throughout the state to achieve these goals.”
Meanwhile, Department of Corrections Commissioner John Rees, who was also on the Summit, said he endorses the governor’s plan, and that the DOC has already increased treatment in the corrections system.
“The idea that we can incarcerate our way out of the substance abuse problem must be laid to rest,” Commissioner Rees said. “Governor Fletcher and Lieutenant Governor Pence realize we must end this revolving door cycle in our criminal justice system - where we are releasing offenders from prison only to have them go back out and re-offend because they’re still drug addicts. Their plan to focus instead on treatment and education is long overdue.”
Since January, the DOC, at the direction of the administration, has added 300 new substance abuse treatment beds. Some of those were added for an innovative treatment program at the Roederer Correctional Complex in LaGrange for incarcerated substance abusers and parolees who are struggling with their addiction and, in the case of parolees, facing revocation.
The program uses volunteers from the community and faith-based organizations and includes a mentoring component in which successful program graduates work with offenders still in the program.
“We at the department level are focusing more on substance abuse treatment because we believe we have to, and here’s why: Of the roughly 18,000 men and women serving time for felony convictions in this state, about 4,000 are in for drug-related crimes,” Rees said. “In the past 10 years, there has been nearly a 300 percent increase in the number of inmates entering the prison system on drug charges.”
Justice and Public Safety Deputy Secretary Cleve Gambill said it is necessary to have law enforcement support for the governor’s plan of using a working balance of prevention-education, treatment and law enforcement to reduce drug trafficking and use in the commonwealth.
“Even the toughest prosecutors and other law enforcement officers now recognize that drugs are as much a health problem as a crime problem,” he said. “We can’t imprison everyone. We have more than 45,000 Kentuckians in jails, prisons and on supervision. Most need, but aren’t getting any treatment for their drug addictions. Statistics show they will be coming back if we don’t change our approach.
“Above all, we must be tough and harsh where we need to be. True drug dealers should not expect and should not receive mercy. Drug possessors and addicted persons should be given firm, reasonable opportunities to be helped.”