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Probation often leads to much-needed treatment for drug offenders

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By Sharon Graves

The cases of the 68 people indicted and arrested in November on drug-trafficking charges are working through the court system, according to Carroll County victims advocate Leigh Ann Roberts.

Some may be going through the courts slower than others, and despite similar charges many of those arrested in the five-county drug bust will face different consequences.

“There are a lot of factors that go into dealing with these cases,” said Roberts, who works with Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Crawford and served as a parole and probation officer for almost 10 years. “There’s much to be done and much to be considered after a case is brought to the grand jury.”

Those arrested range from juveniles to elderly individuals in their 70s, and fall into every socio-economic group in Carroll County, she said.

There have been stepped up efforts by all agencies in this area to curb drug trafficking, according to Josh Olds, Carroll County probation and parole officer.

The amount of money to be made is very tempting, and if a someone who decides to sell pills from a prescription paid for by insurance, then the general public is subsidizing their drug business.

“I wish I had the answer to put the kibosh on that,” Olds said.   

“The whole face of drug trafficking has changed and the prosecutors have had to change with them,” Roberts said. “I think everybody knows or is related to somebody who is affected by it [addiction to prescription medication].”

Trafficking prescription drugs can be as simple as a family member giving a dose of a prescription medication to another family member, Roberts warns. “Even if you give people your pills and don’t sell them, that’s trafficking.”  

Often, the public wants to see drug dealers “off the streets” and in jail, but that doesn’t always happen – for a variety of reasons, Roberts said.

“The way the system is set up now with parole eligibility, ‘off the streets’ may only mean a few months,” she said.

First, she said, someone convicted of a Class D felony facing one to five years in prison usually serves about 15 percent of a sentence. So, she said, an offender sentenced to three years in jail may be eligible for parole after serving 165 days.  “A lot of people don’t know that.

Often, nonviolent offenders are released on parole because of costs. The expense of incarceration is high, and corrections prefers drug offenders be out of jail and supervised at home.

Epidemic proportions

Roberts said the court system is overflowing with drug-related cases, particularly because of the popularity of prescription drugs on the street.

“It is certainly an epidemic, and people don’t realize that the problem we have in the community and the nation is that this has exploded everywhere.”

And people convicted of abusing or trafficking prescription drugs are not the type most people think of when they think of such criminals.

“We still have plenty of what you typically consider to be a street-corner drug-dealer, but what we are also seeing now are people who are in a position to benefit from being around prescription drugs,” she said. “You see people who are in homes who have parents and grandparents that give them access to a lot of prescription drugs. You also have parents and grandparents who are [selling drugs] to supplement their income.”

Nowadays, Roberts said, it’s the community that is falling victim to drug crimes.

“We know it’s a social problem, and of course we want jail time as a part of the solution,” she said. “But in this community, drug trafficking and addiction has hit everybody in some circumstance.  “If it’s in our community, you have to do more than say, we’re going to give them three years [in prison]. ... If they’re going to be back out we have to do more to deal with them.”

Parole and probation are not the same thing. The difference, Olds said, is a person on parole is someone who has been sentenced to prison for a year or longer and has served their time. They must answer to the parole board, but they are supervised by Olds, if they reside in this county.

The parole board determines the conditions of parole and grants them their freedom.

Probation is at the discretion of the local sentencing judge, and Olds supervises them also.  If an offender does not meet the conditions of probation, the sentencing judge can revoke their probation.

Under the parole system, a person serves jail time and, upon release, is under the jurisdiction of the Kentucky Parole Board. The board can send a parolee back to prison if he or she violates the conditions of their parole, Roberts said.

Probation can call for an offender to do a split sentence, including jail time. During probation, the court system also can deal with the underlying factors, such as substance abuse and addiction, Roberts said. Fines paid by those on probation help pay for supervision and court costs.

A person on probation can be subject to a substance-abuse evaluation and can be offered drug treatment.  They are required to undergo drug tests monthly. Any misstep can land them back in jail for their full sentence.

It’s a good system for a lot of people, Roberts said. “You can insure that they are keeping a job and you can make them get up and get out and look for a job. And if they don’t, you can take them back before a local judge. ... Probation is not the end of the story, and lots of times probation can be much more effective in changing the lifestyle of the individual.”

Often, probation can be a wake-up call. “I used to say to people when they came in, you now have a rope.  It is totally up to you if you choose to pull yourself up out of the hole with the rope or tie the rope around your neck and hang yourself,” Roberts said.

Diversion is another tool and can be a good option for some offenders, Roberts said. It is granted to those without prior criminal records, and eligibility depends on the charges they face.  

Diversion gives the offender the opportunity to stay out of trouble for five years; if successful, they can have their charges dismissed.