Indiana prosecutors call for law-and-order approach to fighting opioids

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The Association of Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Inc. is using the state’s opiate plan to fault the 3-year-old criminal code reform which emphasizes treatment over prolonged incarceration.

Patricia Baldwin, president of the association and prosecutor of Hendricks County, issued the statement Thursday on behalf of the AIPA. She said the plan from Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Indiana Drug Prevention, Treatment and Enforcement Task Force to combat the opiate epidemic by increasing rehabilitation efforts is laudable but impossible without “meaningful enforcement.”

“I, and the prosecutors around the state, certainly appreciate the efforts of the task force to bolster prevention and treatment resources in our state,” Baldwin said. “We want the plan to succeed. It cannot succeed, however, without a comparable and equivalent improvement on the enforcement side.”

The task force released a “Preliminary Action Steps” report in May. It does include proposals for stepped-up enforcement by reducing the supply of illegal drugs rather than imposing stronger punishment on individuals caught possessing or dealing drugs. The report advocates for interrupting drug trafficking routes, dismantling illegal manufacturing of drugs, expanding the use of electronic surveillance, and empowering state police to mobilize troopers in response to surges in crime for limited periods of time.

Baldwin criticized the task force and the criminal code reform for treating drug abuse as a medical issue and not as a criminal offense.

“The report urges us to think of a heroin user as having a substance use disorder, and to ignore the illegal aspects. Proponents of this way of thinking suggest that (substance abuse disorder) is no different than diabetes,” Baldwin said. “Most in the law enforcement community do not accept the comparison.”

Baldwin’s statement came on the same day that President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a national emergency. A few days prior, he had called for stronger law enforcement tactics, but on Thursday instructed his administration “to use all appropriate emergency and other authorities to respond to the crisis caused by the opioid epidemic.”

Baldwin argued that a tough law-and-order approach of arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating drug dealers actually promotes rehabilitation by applying consequences to actions. She then blamed the Indiana Legislature’s reform of the state’s criminal code in 2014 with weakening the ability of law enforcement to hold dealers accountable and encouraging users to get help.

The overhaul of Indiana’s criminal code focused on reducing recidivism and overcrowding in the state prisons by keeping low- and medium-level offenders who committed non-violent crimes in the county jails where they could receive treatment and education. The most dangerous offenders would be sent to the Indiana Department of Correction.

Baldwin claimed high-level offenders are serving short sentences in local jails and that “fully 30 percent of the worst of the worst drug dealers convicted in Indiana received no prison sentence last year.” She did not substantiate her assertions but she pointed to the rise in child abuse cases and children in need of services cases along with the murder rates in Fort Wayne and Indianapolis as evidence that offenders are increasingly on the streets and causing problems.

“The less severe the consequences for possession of drugs, the less likely addicts will take corrective action,” Baldwin said. “A robust enforcement effort is absolutely necessary to a functional prevention and treatment effort.”

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