My name is Dr. Deborah Moses, I am speaking today as a concerned private citizen, Jewish Community Action member, and St Paul resident. I have a Masters in Public Health with a dissertation focus on Substance Abuse Treatment, a Doctorate in Public Administration, and am currently the director of the Head Start programs in Ramsey County. I am also the past Director of Community Addiction Recovery Enterprise (CARE)—the addiction treatment programs operated by the State of Minnesota Department of Human Services which are focused on serving civilly committed clients. During my tenure the program served over 300 clients statewide in both inpatient and outpatients services addressing dual disorders of mental illness and addiction, as well as providing Methadone Maintenance and detox for those addicted to opioids.
Substance Use Disorder is a recognized, treatable mental health disorder. The United States has criminalized Substance Use Disorder for years rather than provide sound treatment strategies that have been proven effective through research. In effect, we have truly created a two tiered system where those with financial resources receive treatment while those without resources end up incarcerated. Should everyone in residence at Hazelden actually be in prison? They have used the same drugs and committed the same crimes as those who are behind bars. Or instead, should we make evidence-based treatment practices available to all of those suffering from addiction.? In fact, behavioral compliance with treatment for addiction is higher than any other chronic disease that has a behavioral change component as part of treatment. Treatment for addiction in the community reduces crime, reunites families, strengthens communities, and reduces our tax liabilities. Over the course of my 30 plus year career I have watched countless individuals go from addiction to becoming valuable members of our society, including lawyers, doctors, public administrators and legislators.
We really need to look at alternatives to incarceration because incarcerating addicted individuals has neither decreased drug use in this country nor has it reduced crime. This can be witnessed simply through the results of alternative methods to treating addiction throughout the world which have been more successful in reduction of crime and rehabilitating lives than incarceration. That is why I support the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission’s proposed reductions in incarceration time for first and second degree drug offenses, the change to presumptive probation for 2nd degree violations, and the addition of a mitigating factor for willingness to attend treatment.
It is a good first step, but more needs to be done. I am concerned that this rule change actually adds more aggravating factors to drug crime sentencing, which will only continue to exacerbate the divide of who can go to treatment and who to prison. For example, by singling out sale or possession in public housing, we are saying that those who are too poor to own their own homes or rent in the private market will face tougher sentences than those with access to financial resources. With the commission taking the previously mentioned positive steps, it is then baffling to me why we would continue to invoke the failed response of incarceration rather than seek out alternative ways of addressing substance use disorder as recommended by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t add that while my current position at Head Start does not directly address incarceration, I do know the daily effects on the families we serve, all of whom are living in poverty. I know that each day I have to look into the eyes of young children who do not have their parents at home. It is the negative effects on those children and families that continues to have a truly negative effect on the public safety of our communities.