Leader Blues

Monday, July 31, 2006

TOP STORY>>Hutchinson touts experience

Leader staff writer

The success of the Lonoke County Drug Court program prompted Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson to pick Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Cabot as his first stop Wednesday on a statewide tour outlining his plan to wage war on drugs in the natural state. Hutchinson plans to use $10 million of the projected $400 million state surplus to create a Bureau of Drug Enforcement inside the Arkansas State Police, $3 million in additional funding for the state’s drug task forces to cover cuts in federal funding and $5 million to ex-pand the state’s drug-treatment courts.

“I’ve fought this battle for a long time. Enforcement, treatment and education are puzzle pieces that work together,” Hutchinson said. Hutchinson is a former U.S. Attorney and Congressman in the 3rd District in northwest Arkansas. He left Arkansas politics in 2001 to become the head of the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He is running for governor against Democratic nominee Attorney General Mike Beebe and independent candidate Rod Bryan, a sandwich shop worker from Little Rock, in the Tuesday, Nov. 7 general election.


Implemented in 2003, the Lonoke County Drug Court is at capacity with 35 people working to be stay gainfully employed and off drugs. “We’ve seen a lot of success with our drug court program and I think Hutchinson certainly has the experience to make his program work,” said Lona McCastlain, Lonoke County Prosecutor. Under the traditional court system, a person found guilty of felony possession of a controlled substance could be sentenced to three years in prison. With good behavior, that person could be back on the street in six months without any drug treatment or coping skill—a threat to reoffend.

Instead, an eligible offender who pleads guilty in drug court put into a highly intensified treatment for a minimum of 12 months, usually 18 months, required getting drug treatment and participation in a 12-step program under constant monitoring and supervision. Judges and probation officers make sure those in the program are complying with the intensive stipulations, including drug treatment, getting or keeping a job and being supportive of their children and families.
If and when someone in the program fails, the court has the option to revoke the probation and impose the full range of punishment appropriate to the offense.

There are 37 drug courts throughout the state. “Drug courts have proven to be one of the most effective approaches to battling drug abuse by steering non-violent offenders away from a cycle of addiction and crime, these programs not only ease the strain on our crowded jails. Even more important, they help users beat their addictions, get their lives back on track, and return to the workforce as productive members of society,” Hutchinson said.


Hutchinson says a state Bureau of Drug Enforcement would assist local agencies with sharing information and enforcement One example of information sharing would be a State Police monitored database to track the sale of cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, a primary ingredient in the manufacturing of methamphetamine. Pharmacies are now keeping medicines that contain pseudoephedrine behind the counter or in locked cases along with requiring people to show their driver’s license and sign for it. The only way for law enforcement to know how much pseudoephedrine someone bought is going to each pharmacy and checking the paperwork.

Earlier this month North Little Rock passed an ordinance requiring pharmacies in North Little to install such software. Pharmacists scan the drug’s product code and swipe the consumer’s driver’s license. Each day this information is uploaded to the Internet allowing every pharmacy in the city to see how much pseudoephedrine has been purchased in the last 30 days. “Our Drug Task Forces are doing a tremendous job of fighting, against tough odds, the drug dealers and the trafficking cartels that ship drugs into our state,” Hutchinson said. “The Arkansas Bureau of Drug Enforcement would help even the playing field against these criminal organizations by working in partnership with task forces already in place and helping to coordinate statewide enforcement efforts more effectively.”


In the past two years, the federal grant source used to fund Arkansas’ Drug Task Forces has been cut by approximately $3 million dollars annually. “Given the current projected state surplus of $700 million, there is no reason that we can’t allocate a modest portion of that surplus toward strengthening Arkansas’ Drug Task Forces,” Hutchinson said. The only reporting requirements at present for State Drug Task Forces are to file a report with the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration. As a condition of receiving state money, intelligence, drug trafficking and target reports should be submitted to and coordinated with the Bureau of Drug Enforcement, Hutchinson said, to ensure greater coordination and cooperation between law enforcement agencies.


To qualify for federal funding, Hutchinson wants the state designated as part of the Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. This designation would recognize that Arkansas is a trafficking route for major criminal organizations and would allow additional federal funding for the state’s battle against drugs.


Hutchinson want the private sector to step forward to fund public education and awareness of the danger of drugs by waging a large scale public service advertising and Internet marketing campaign targeted at Arkansas’ youth and to mobilize community groups across the state in drug education and prevention efforts. Mt. Carmel Baptist Church hosts Celebrate Recovery; a faith-based, 12-step program for “hurts, habits and hang-ups” says pastor Larry White. “I applaud Mt. Carmel for Celebrate Recovery. It’s an example of how communities can help fight the war on drugs,” Hutchin-son said. The plan has drawn comments from the campaigns of both Bryan and Beebe. Zac Wright, a spokesman for Beebe, blamed the influx of drugs in Arkansas, particularly the importing of meth made in Mexico, on Hutchinson’s tenure at the DEA. Bryan, who supports legalizing marijuana for medical purposes said Hutchin-son’s plan focuses too much on enforcement.
“The drug problems are because of other problems that we need to address first,” Bryan said.

“If we fix our economy, our drug problems will improve.”