Readers of this blog may remember the case reported on these pages in late 2010 about the pathetic coke junkie who got caught conducting a "pass off". A "pass off," he explained while on the stand in the punishment phase, was collecting the money and passing off the product to the ultimate consumer at the last stage of a drug transaction, apparently to finance his own drug habit. The late Judge Hyde sent him to the slammer for 15 years. Link.
The war on drugs has been an expensive failure. And if there were an easy solution it would have been discovered by now. Legalizing hard drugs is not a viable option due to the way those drugs replace a person's personality and ambition with a drive to get more of the drug. (Marijuana, though, might be a good candidate for legalization for reasons discussed before. Link.)
The problem that neither prohibition nor legalization will solve is getting drug users to quit. An article in Saturday's Wall Street Journal noted the ineffectiveness of prohibition and told about some experiments in a few jurisdiction that have shown some success in getting people who have been caught to break the habit. See Rethinking the War on Drugs.
Probation has long been a very important tool of the criminal justice system. But there's a flaw in how it has been implemented. If a probationer violated the terms, there were only two alternatives, scold them and send them back on the street or send them to prison to serve out their terms. The probationers figrued out what they could get away with, and the tendency was not to send them back to already crowded prisons.
An alternative program has been put in place in a few jurisdictions for people on probation for drug crimes. In Tarrant County, Texas, it's called SWIFT, an acronym (almost) for "Supervision With Intensive enForcemenT."
The SWIFT program is fairly simple. Probationers must phone in each week day to find out whether they must take a drug test that day. If they fail to call, fail the test, or fail to take the test they go to jail for the next couple of days. The important aspect is that it's swift.
Detection and punishment must be swift and certain if it is going to serve as a deterrent. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Klassen told us that just last month.
The program in Tarrant County was patterned after a similar program started in 2004 in Hawaii called HOPE which an independent 2009 report PDF indicates showed a significant improvement over the old way.
Legalization isn't likely to happen in the near future, and the war on drugs isn't going away anytime soon. But programs like SWIFT and HOPE are ways to use the war on drugs in a positive way to actually improve someone's life. But it takes someone in authority to actually look at the studies and implement the program.
The late Judge Hyde's place on the bench is up for election. If there's anyone reading this who wants to help voters in Midland, Texas, decide which of the four candidates should be elected District Judge, 238th Judicial District, ask Jeff Robnett, Mike Rittenberry, David W. Lindemood and Elizabeth Byer Leonard whether if elected they will take the initiative and establish a similar program locally. Judge Hyde would be proud of you.