The point is that Mandela, just like millions locked up in the world’s criminal justice systems, had a number. Otherwise, confusion would rule the day when it comes to the whereabouts of inmates.
For one set of criminals in Alabama’s criminal justice system, confusion is ruling the day. Alabama drug offenders serving probation in rehabilitation centers are often trapped in a system where numbers, accountability and strict supervision of the treatment programs are all missing.
In Sunday’s Anniston Star, reporter Cameron Steele provided the details in an article titled, “Rehab sentences given to Alabama drug offenders can be carried out in uncertified programs.” Steele’s reporting points to a criminal justice system in chaos. As a condition of their probation, drug offenders are entering into a treatment center. This method is (a.) practical — treat a drug abuser’s addiction and his or her lawbreaking days will likely come to an end — and (b.) necessary because of the state’s severe prison-overcrowding problem. More than 27,000 inmates are housed in a system intended for 13,000.
However, many of Alabama’s rehabs are not regulated by the state, and many that are regulated are full to capacity. So, judges are faced with allowing offenders to enter facilities with zero oversight.
“I don’t keep a running tally program of how many I have in” various rehabs, Calhoun County Circuit Judge Malcolm Street told Steele. “I couldn’t give a figure or truthfully say.”
The judge isn’t alone. In fact, it’s a mystery to Alabama’s criminal justice system. Detailed records for offenders ordered into rehab don’t exist.
What is the result of these gaps in the state’s understanding of various rehab centers’ effectiveness, staffing and procedures? And what about offenders ordered into rehab by a judge, are they receiving quality treatment for their addictions?
David Blumberg, chairman of the Parole Commission in Maryland, summed up his state’s views on the matter. “We would not put anybody in something that wasn’t licensed, because we would not know what kind of treatment they are getting or anything,” Blumberg told The Star.
We’d go so far as to say neither would Alabama if money was available to properly regulate the treatment of drug offenders. In a tough economy, money is tighter than normal in the state. The result has been a hollowing out. No sector of state government has been spared, including essentials like social services, public schools and, yes, criminal justice. Crime labs have been shuttered. Court staffing has been reduced. The number of trials has been limited.
Alabama’s budget is straining. There’s just not enough money to take care of the basics, the functions that separate Alabama from a Third World country.
Two great Alabama mottos are in conflict. The state’s anti-tax fervor is clashing with the lock-’em-up mindset. Montgomery’s leaders have made their choice. Confronted with the crying demand for raising revenue, they’ve decided to risk the dreadful outcome of someone slipping through the cracks of the criminal justice system.