Sensible plan to fight violent crime and drug abuse in Tennessee

Sensible plan to fight violent crime and drug abuse in Tennessee

February 24th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

Tennessee has a lot going for it. Our state enjoys the built-in advantages of a mild climate and stunning natural beauty. We also have the hard-earned benefits of solid economic development -- despite the recession and the painfully slow recovery nationwide. And we have intangible characteristics such as a strong volunteer spirit and friendly residents.

Tennesseans are proud of those qualities and many more traits that set the state apart.

But it would be neither honest nor productive to pretend that Tennessee has no room for improvement on the troubling issues of violent crime and the use of illegal drugs.

Some high-ranking state law enforcement and other officials recently spelled out a number of the challenges we face:

• Tennessee's rate of violent crime from 2005 to 2010 was much higher than the national average -- about 613 violent crimes per 100,000 people in Tennessee, compared with about 404 per 100,000 people nationwide.

• Tennessee has the fifth-highest rate in the nation of domestic homicides.

• Victims of domestic violence made up slightly more than half of all reported violent crimes in the state in 2010.

• In 1999, 5 percent of the Tennesseans who were getting treatment funded by the state Department of Mental Health were abusing prescription pain relievers. But by 2009, that figure had skyrocketed to 23 percent.

• The abuse and trafficking of prescription drugs and the production, sale and use of methamphetamine are now a greater challenge in Tennessee than marijuana, cocaine and other illegal drugs.

• The recidivism rate for adults in the state is almost 47 percent. That is to say, about 47 percent of adults who are convicted of one crime are then convicted of a new crime within three years of their release from incarceration or supervision.

Behind these statistics are thousands of broken lives, not to mention enormous costs for prosecution, incarceration and treatment -- costs borne largely by taxpayers.

So at Gov. Bill Haslam's behest, a large panel made up of representatives of state agencies ranging from the Department of Children's Services to the Department of Safety and Homeland Security has come up with legislative proposals and an action plan to address these painful issues.

Here are a few facets of the panel's and Haslam's sensible goals:

• A regularly updated Internet database to track prescriptions and make it harder for drug abusers to go from doctor to doctor seeking more drugs.

• Reduced production of methamphetamine through use of a database to block improper sales of a key ingredient in meth.

• Reduced gang crime through tougher penalties for violent crimes that involve at least three defendants.

• A more seamless, streamlined system of moving inmates through the justice system so offenders are less likely to fall through the cracks or game the system.

• Assured jail time for repeat domestic violence offenders.

The legislative proposals and the action plan as a whole "can affect the quality of life" statewide, said Mark Gwyn, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Failing to address crime effectively means greater numbers of victims as well as serious economic development consequences.

"What companies want to relocate to a state where crime is off the charts?" Gwyn asked.

Keeping Tennessee attractive for business investment and, more importantly, protecting the safety of residents are excellent reasons to make this action plan a reality.