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TREATMENT INSTEAD OF PRISON
According to the last figures I have seen, it the costs the state more than $30,000 a year to incarcerate one nonviolent drug offender. The recidivism rate among this offender group is more than 60 percent, so the state might have to incarcerate an individual multiple times if that person continues to reoffend. On the other hand, it can cost anywhere between several hundred and several thousand dollars, depending on the recommended treatment regimen, to provide substance-abuse treatment to one of these very same individuals in a community-based program. A person, especially a young person, who successfully completes drug treatment is far less likely to reoffend than is one who has not dealt with his or her addiction.
The math is very simple if you want to compare what it can cost the state to deal with this widespread and growing social problem. “Lock ’em up” at $30,000 a pop, or put them in a fully accredited, state-licensed, and state-funded substance-abuse treatment program for a fraction of that amount. A stroll across the grounds of any minimum- or medium-security correctional facility in Illinois will document the stark reality that we, as a state, have locked up thousands and thousands of young men and women for nonviolent drug offenses. The years wasted sitting in prison can never be made up.
Even though the state provides drug treatment “behind the walls,” the cost of that treatment remains prohibitively high compared with the same treatment regimen in a community-based program.
The proposed expansion of drug courts is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done. At a time when budget concerns seem to drive every policy decision this administration makes, a decision to change the way we treat the problem of dealing with nonviolent drug offenders would be an example of extremely responsible fiscal management. Besides, it is a compassionate and enlightened approach that has proved successful in other states.
Community Behavioral Healthcare Association
THE FREEDOM TO CHOOSE
George Andrews, in his recent letter, wrote: “The state has the ability to reprimand those who neglect to provide the service for which they were licensed” [“Letters,” April 28]. Mr. Andrews may wish to give the state total control of his life, but to me, a license given by the state only means that a person meets the requirements to perform the task they are in business to do and is therefore allowed to do it.
The state grants licenses to many people, including plumbers, electricians, roofing contractors, doctors, nurses, lawyers, marriage counselors, barbers, funeral directors, and on and on. Just because the state grants them a license doesn’t mean they can’t turn down a job if they don’t want it. Is a lawyer required to accept every case that walks in the door? If a religious bookstore has a license to operate, must they sell books on devil worship? If a doctor is capable of performing a sex-change operation but doesn’t think it is right, does he have to do it anyway?
The Constitution is about freedom, not government running our lives. Why is it whenever a person has moral convictions, he is labeled a “religious zealot”?
It seems there are a lot of “pro-choice” people in our country who don’t want the government telling them what to do. Where are they when a business chooses what to sell or not sell?
E85: THE SENSIBLE ALTERNATIVE
Recently I drove a 2002 Ford Taurus into a gas station and up to a special pump marked “E85.” As I filled my tank (for $1.99 per gallon, a full 30 cents less than regular gas), I joined millions of drivers who have discovered E85, a new blend of fuel made with corn-based ethanol, which is cleaner, cheaper, and produced here in Illinois.
The cost of gas continues to spiral upward. As summer nears and vacationing Illinois families take to the road, smart drivers should check to see whether their car can use E85 and then obtain a list of gas stations making E85 available.
E85 may only be used in “flexible fuel vehicles,” regular cars, trucks, and SUVs with engines that may use either E85 or regular gas. There are now 4 million flexible fuel vehicles in the United States. In Illinois, 31 gas stations offer E85, a number that is expected to double this year.
E85 is not only cheaper than regular gas, but is also grown in our own back yard. Using E85 supports Illinois corn growers and creates jobs in the manufacture, blending, and shipment of this fuel. Cleaner than regular gas, E85 produces fewer harmful emissions and gives us healthier air. E85 is a sensible option.
Let’s build this natural market for Illinois corn. Tell your local gas-station owner to add an E85 pump and urge your state lawmakers to support legislation designed to foster use of E85. For locations of E85 gas stations and the kinds of vehicles that use E85, see www.ruralaffairscouncil.il.gov.
COME BACK TO AMERICA, MON
Remember during and after the 2004 elections, when all the exit polls predicted that Kerry would win yet Bush seemed to end up with the higher vote? Perhaps some “unanticipated occurrence” led to Bush’s victory, and the 2004 exit polls were right. Consider that today Bush’s agenda is stalled in Congress and the electorate lacks confidence (by about 3 to 1) in almost everything he has been or is trying to do. The ultraconservative fringe feels he used them shamelessly, and moderate Republicans complain he is much too extreme for their constituencies. The only people happy with him are the very wealthy.
Domestic affairs languish: the economy, rising gas prices, urgent ethics investigations in Congress, affordable health care, stuff like that. Foreign affairs continue to receive tortuously conflicted messages: Russia is our trusted ally despite centralized dictatorship initiatives, but Canada, for instance, is a suspect nation for allowing Americans to buy reasonably priced prescription drugs.
Bush has lost any vestige of the control he wanted to acquire from his self-declared 51 percent mandate. The opinion in this country, as well as the world, is that he is running America much as he ran his previous companies, which is to say “into the ground.” Democrats savor the descent; conservatives wail at the Lobbyists’ Wall with great gnashing of teeth; and most everybody has been wondering, “How the hell do we get back on track?”
What we can do, must do, is come back to the bedrock concepts of America, which includes responsibility to all citizens rather than just favored segments. We can remember that this country was built on the labors of the lower and middle classes and remove from their backs the burden of trying to make ends meet even while being required to pay a growing share of total taxes.
There used to be an ad for Jamaica featuring a mellow-voiced guy saying, “Come back. Come back to Jamaica, mon.” That’s what we must do: Come back to our roots, to our sensibilities, to the value of assisting in the common good, not working toward the common demise.
VOLUNTEERS MADE FILING LESS TAXING
This tax season, the Center for Economic Progress operated 33 sites across Illinois where low-income taxpayers were able to receive free income-tax-preparation assistance. With the help of more than 900 volunteer tax preparers, including 189 volunteers in central and southern Illinois, the center was able to prepare more than 25,000 state and federal income-tax returns. In total, the center returned more than $35 million in tax refunds to its clients. Volunteers in Springfield prepared 722 tax returns, bringing back $1.2 million in refunds — a 6 percent increase for Springfield compared with the previous year.
The center is proud to have served Illinois’ hardworking families by providing free tax-preparation services for the 11th year in partnership with the state of Illinois and dozens of foundations, corporations, and partner agencies.
Center for Economic Progress
The name of Rochester Police Chief Bill Marass was misspelled in a news story last week [Dusty Rhodes, “To tell the truth,” May 5]. We regret the error.