According to the Arizona Department of Economic Security, some 10,141 children were removed from their birth homes in 2012, with roughly 59% of those children taken away because their parents were abusing drugs or alcohol.
With a sharp increase in heroin and prescription drug abuse over the last five years, Arizona’s Child Protective Service has concurrently seen the rise in the number of children entering the system, including babies that have tested positive for drugs. “There’s more of a focus on keeping track of parents with babies that are born with substance abuse,” said Jinny Ludwig, executive director of the Northern Arizona Office of Ameripsych, a privately held provider of foster and adoption service. “More immediate action is being taken.”
In fact, some places have seen a rise of 50 percent in the number of babies entering their facilities who are testing positive for drugs. “CPS does have a visible presence here because we have so many high-risk babies with challenging family situations,” said Dr. Alan Bedrick, chief of neonatology at the University of Arizona Medical Center. “We’ll have babies ready for discharge, and we are not able to send them home because Child Protective Services has not been able to find placement.”
Overall, there has been a spike in children being put into Arizona’s CPS, and more than 15,300 kids are currently in foster care. While the national numbers show an 18 percent decrease from 2007 to 2012, in Arizona the number of children entering foster care skyrocketed by 48 percent and deep cuts to state services have been to blame. “The state Legislature is the real culprit here,” says Eric Schindler, president and CEO of Child and Family Resources in Tucson. “The choices they have made, the cuts they’ve made, have real-world consequences.”
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- British Accountant Embezzled Thousands to Fuel Gambling Addiction [Leamington Observer]
- Breaking News: State of New York Approved Medical Marijuana 33 Years Ago [New York Post]
- Former Day Care Provider Convicted of Distributing Crack Cocaine [Lawrence Journal-World]
- South Africa Warns Journalists Covering Mandela Funeral: Don't Get Drunk [Huffington Post]
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It should come as a surprise to no one that Kirstie Alley was a cocaine addict in her early days as an actress. To be sure, Alley has been less-than-shy about her history with the drug. But what has been missing all these years was how, exactly, she became addicted in the first place.
But last week in a sit down with radio host Howard Stern to promote her new TV Land show, Kirstie, Alley revealed the circumstances of her life that led her to try cocaine. “I didn’t do drugs until I was 25,” she said. “I got a divorce from my husband, and I started hanging out with this guy I was sort of madly in love with. He had already done all of his drugs, but he had a lot of druggie friends.” Her fall from sobriety to addict was fast. "I had heard that cocaine made you peppy and happy and I was sort of depressed because I had gotten a divorce and wrecked everybody’s lives. So I thought, 'I’m gonna try this,'" she recalled. "I took one snort of cocaine, and I go, 'Oh my God! I’m gonna do this every day for the rest of my life!'"
Alley knew that her life was in tatters and sought help though Scientology’s rehab program, Narconon, which she has steadfastly credited with curbing her addiction. “I had a total awareness that I was dead as a being. I could just feel that I had smashed my own life force with drugs,” Alley said.
If you were given a choice between pleading guilty and spending ten years behind bars, or going to trial and potentially facing life in prison, which would you choose? That’s the hard choice drug defendants in the U.S. are increasingly facing, and overwhelmingly they are opting for a lesser sentence.
The choice makes sense if you look at the numbers. In 2012, 89% of defendants who chose to go to trial not only lost their case, but were also sentenced to an average sentence of sixteen years, three times higher than the five year sentence given to those who pled guilty. As a result of these disproportionate numbers, only three percent of federal drug defendants chose a trial in 2012, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.
Federal prosecutors have the power to decide which charges to bring against drug defendants. They also decide what conditions to impose in order for a plea bargain to go through, and what consequences the defendant will face if he or she does not plea. Because of the mandatory minimum laws which were instituted in the 1980s, judges do not have a choice when it comes to sentencing drug defendants charged with a particular crime. In other words, if the defendant is guilty of a crime that carries a mandatory minimum sentence, the judge must impose that penalty no matter what. In essence, it's the prosecutors who are sentencing defendants. According to Jamie Fellner, the author of the Human Rights Watch report, “Prosecutors can say ‘Take these 10 years or, if you get a trial and are convicted, you’re going to look at life.’”
If the defendant knows that he will receive a harsh penalty if he is found guilty, he is much more likely to seriously consider a plea. According to Judge John Gleeson of the Southern District of New York, these sentences can be “so excessively severe, they take your breath away.” Not only do the prosecutors set the plea bargain, it's becoming essential to the system that defendants accept prison instead of going to trail. "If you can get someone to acknowledge guilt without the burden and expense of a trial, without having to marshal witnesses and line up witnesses, and without risking an acquittal, why not," Fellner said. "You don’t have the cost of a trial, it doesn’t take the time and resources, and it increases the notches on your belt of how many convictions you’ve gotten.”
Because our judicial system does not have the resources required to try every case, prosecutors have come to embrace the situation as a matter of course. “Justice would almost stand still if we took the majority of our cases to trial,” said Steven Jansen, the vice president and chief operating officer of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. He also notes that reforms on the mandatory minimum laws are underway. However, he objects to the characterization of prosecutors “forcing” their defendants to plead guilty: “a defendant is really not forced to accept a guilty plea. Obviously they have a right to go to trial no matter what the sentence is,” Jansen said.
Minnesota is struggling to cope with its substance abuse problem as half of the detox centers throughout the state have shut down over the last two decades, leaving already overcrowded jails and hospital emergency rooms to pick up the slack. There are only 23 detox centers throughout the state, but Minnesota health care officials believe there is still a desperate need for them. The binge drinking and heroin-related death rates for Minnesotans are among the highest in the country, but jails and ER's are simply unable to handle the long-term treatment or counseling services that chronic addicts need.
“Detox is always full and the emergency rooms are being overrun with intoxicated people,” said Jennifer DeCubellis, assistant administrator for health for Hennepin County. “We need an array of services that simply don’t exist today.” Bed shortages often mean that visibly intoxicated people who aren't suffering from alcohol poisoning or severely injured are turned away. In rural communities, this means that police are often forced to travel hundreds of miles to drop people off at distant detox centers. For an addict suffering from severe alcohol or drug withdrawals, those hours in a car without treatment can be potentially fatal.
“You can’t leave people lying in the snowbank when it’s 10 degrees below zero,” said Matt Westermayer, deputy director of public safety and police for the city of Mankato. “It’s our obligation to help these people, but something has to change.” Hennepin County is now looking at creating a 30-bed “sobering” center for those who need a place to sleep and sober up, but don’t require acute medical care. The facility could potentially save Hennepin $4 million annually, according to county estimates.
But even if the proposal is approved, it’s detox centers that Minnesota desperately needs. The 21-bed Mission Detox Center in Plymouth provides patients with long-term treatment and counseling, which has led to most of them not returning to the center after they first arrive. “There is this myth that people come here to hang out and have meals, and then it’s back to the streets to drink,” said Brian Zirbes, program director at the Mission Detox Center. “This misperception misses the success stories.”
Because of the growing number of veterans dealing with mental illness and substance abuse, the U.S. legal system is seeing a surge in veterans court programs that are designed to give military veterans suffering with addiction a chance at redemption through treatment instead of prison time. The first special court for veterans was launched in Buffalo, N.Y. in 2008, and has since expanded to 130 similar courts in 40 states. Veterans court programs are modeled on drug courts that encourage support programs instead of incarceration based on the significantly reduced recidivism rates.
Former Marine Cpl. Eric Gonzalez, who served in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010, faced a nine-year prison sentence for leading police on a high-speed chase that resulted in charges of DUI, evading arrest, and assault of a police officer. But his depression and PTSD after serving in the war-torn country led Judge Wendy Lindley to recommend Gonzalez for her veterans court program in Orange County Calif; he graduated from the program last September.
“This guy was sent someplace no one should ever be sent, but that’s what we do to our kids because we’re good at it,” said Bert Eitner, Gonzalez’ former drug court parole officer. “And you can’t strap a gun on every day and not have it affect you.” The trauma of war is precisely why the veterans court program only deals with men and women no longer serving on active duty; Eitner believes “there’s no point giving them all these services and letting them go back to deployment.”
Gonzalez said the veterans court program consisted of living in a residential recovery center while undergoing treatment which included cognitive and exposure therapies, as well as meditation and exercise classes. Frequent and mandatory drug testing also took place; Gonzalez said he was tested six times each week by Eitner despite “already peeing for four other people.”
Because of this rigid program, veteran courts have a tremendous track record of success and a recidivism rate of only three percent. “We’ve got this battle force that kept us safe since 9/11,” said retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey. “Now we’ve got to stay behind them.”