Judges need the power to get offenders into drug treatment

The headline, "A Maryland law lets offenders convicted of violent crimes leave prison early for drug treatment. Prosecutors are pushing against it" (March 7), may befit Gov. Larry Hogan's draconian crime plan aimed directly at Baltimore and squaring with the misinformed rhetoric of Donald Trump's Department of Justice. But with that headline, The Sun stokes fears and perpetuates the false narrative that the justice system can solve crime.

If one reads the article, however, the other side emerges. Here, the law in question concerns judges' abilities to directly sentence convicted individuals to community drug and mental health treatment programs or change sentences to such after a period of prison time. Any type of crime is eligible, angering detractors. But to be eligible, a defendant must have a professional evaluation and report done. A judge conducts a hearing on the matter. Then, a judge can order the treatment but must place the defendant on a monitored probation with jail as consequence for a violation. Victims weigh in, and judges often say no from the outset.

Opponents site examples of violent offenders who "went free," getting an average of four years less time. However, Maryland prisons offer little to no rehabilitation or treatment. Most violent offenders are going to return to the community at some point. So, why not use this tool to control and smooth over re-entry when appropriate? Are we that hellbent on punishment and retribution as a society as to dismiss the notion that addiction is a root of violent crime? Or is "tough on crime" the only drumbeat to which candidates for state and local offices can march come election time?

Don't be fooled again, we need these sentencing options.

Todd Oppenheim, Baltimore

The writer is an attorney in the Baltimore City Public Defender's Office.

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