Repeat Sellers: New Approach Needed

On Sept. 24, Jamestown police officers responded to a domestic disturbance on East Second Street.

A man tried to run from police, who had to use a taser on the man, who was then found with a stolen .40 caliber pistol, several baggies of cocaine and cash. The gun was later determined to have been stolen from a home in Warren in August. The man had served time in prison after being convicted of criminal sale of a controlled substance and criminal possession of a weapon. After being released from prison, he was charged in April with third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance after investigators executed a search warrant at 905 Prendergast Ave. after an investigation into crack cocaine sales.

It wouldn’t be so troubling if it wasn’t at least the third such case this year in Jamestown involving someone with repeat drug charges. These are situations that should be remembered as our society tries to deal with our nation’s drug problem.

Rockefeller drug laws that included mandatory minimum punishments for drug offenses in New York state not only didn’t deter people from selling or using drugs, they drove up the cost of New York’s prison system. The Rockefeller drug laws were abandoned in favor of an approach that focuses on less time in prison and a reliance on treatment courts and other forms of rehabilitation. That approach works for low-level users, as evidenced by the success in Jamestown and Dunkirk with Drug Treatment courts. Treatment and counseling is much-preferred for those who aren’t a threat to public safety.

What to do, then, with the repeat sellers? As we have seen recently, there are those who can’t make it from arraignment to the end of their court proceedings without being charged again or who serve prison terms only to commit the same crimes a couple of years later. The September chase down East Second Street could easily have become a public safety nightmare if a gun had been fired during the chase.

This problem is one which can’t be solved on its own locally. One would hope easing up on low-level users should mean there is space to keep repeat offenders in prison longer. And, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder needs to lead the movement to devise a prison system that actually rehabilitates people.

One thing is for certain.

The current approach in New York state works about as well as the Rockefeller drug laws did. A new approach is needed.