Lower crime rate proves meth treatment does work

My good friend and fellow elected district attorney of Pitkin, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties Martin Beeson wrote a letter to The Daily Sentinel recently condemning the work done thus far by the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ). While I share wholeheartedly his goal of preserving public safety, as one of two elected district attorneys who have actually been working on the CCJJ, I need to strongly disagree with his conclusions.  His fundamental contention is that treatment does not work; I have seen dramatic proof to the contrary here in my own jurisdiction.

There is no doubt that incarcerating violent and repeat criminals works and enhances public safety.  Indeed, I will take a backseat to no one in my dedication to locking up these types of criminals; my office conducts more felony jury trials per capita and plea bargains fewer cases per capita than any other in the state. Without doubt, every day a violent criminal spends locked up in prison is another day in which he cannot victimize an innocent citizen.

I have learned through 22 years as a Colorado prosecutor, however, that I don’t know it all and I’m not always right. For many years, we thought that treatment couldn’t help methamphetamine addicts and that the only answer was to lock them all up. They still remained addicts and were still likely to commit new crimes upon their release. As a direct result, Mesa County saw all-time highs in numbers of felony cases in the mid 2000s (a record 2,223 in 2005). I became convinced we had to try something different. Together with the Mesa County commissioners, we thus created the methamphetamine Fast Track program and the Summit View treatment facility.

Since enacting and funding these innovative and effective treatment programs, Mesa County has seen a consistent and dramatic decline in annual felony case filings. Our crime rate has gone down every year since 2005, to a low of 1,812 new cases in 2009. Clearly a huge contributor to these declines is the creation of the treatment program. I have thus witnessed graphic proof on the local level that effective drug treatment works to reduce and prevent crime!

Our goal throughout has been to find ways to eliminate criminal behavior. If a drug addiction is causing criminal behavior and we can eliminate that criminal behavior by eliminating the addiction, I believe it would be irresponsible not to pursue that alternative. Ask any victim of crime: would you rather have the person who victimized you locked up longer or would you prefer to never have been victimized in the first place? Every single crime victim I’ve ever worked with would unhesitatingly choose the latter.

Martin Beeson is without doubt correct that there are a number of liberal legislators who believe all in law enforcement are jack booted Nazis who enjoy locking up people just for the fun of it. These people do in fact want to unilaterally slash criminal sentences across the board. That is absolutely not what the CCJJ has been about. Indeed, the CCJJ has rejected every proposal submitted to it to reduce sentences for violent criminals, for habitual criminals, for crimes against children and for drug dealers. Instead, the CCJJ has recommended reducing sentences for some simple drug possession charges and using those dollars to fund effective treatment across the state based largely on the model we have created here in Mesa County.

The members of the CCJJ include many people who have devoted their entire careers to law enforcement and public safety. In addition to myself they include: Attorney General John Suthers, 17 Judicial District, District Attorney Don Quick, Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson, Golden Police Chief Bill Kilpatrick, former Denver Police Chiefs Ari Zavaras and Dave Michaud, former prosecutors Pete Weir and Jeanne Smith and victims advocates Rhonda Fields and Steve Siegel. None of these are people who would ever put their name to proposals that they believe would undermine public safety. They are all people, however, who are willing to consider new ideas and the possibility that preventing crimes from ever happening might be the best thing for society.

— Pete Hautzinger

Hautzinger is the district attorney for the 21st Judicial District, which covers Mesa County.


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