Lakes Region Weekly editorial

20

Just say no to drug offender registry

State Sen. Bill Diamond’s idea for starting a drug offender registry may appear a good idea on paper, but, on the streets of Maine, it will do little to stem the rising tide of drug-related crime. And, according to some, the registry may even be harmful.

According to a Page 1 story this week, Sen. Diamond wants the Maine Legislature to explore the idea of posting personal information of convicted drug dealers on the Internet. The listing would provide information about offenses and addresses so neighbors and potential employers can be more aware. In other words, a drug offender registry would mirror the state’s sex offender registry, the purpose and worth of which Diamond and other lawmakers are now reviewing in the wake of two killings that took place this spring.

Yes, Diamond is acting tough on crime with his fights against suspended drivers and his desire to maintain the sex offender registry despite the murders. Diamond has good intentions when it comes to fighting crime, but these efforts are misdirected. Instead, the state needs to deal with crime before it happens, not after.

The sex offender registry is a bad idea and the drug offender registry is an even worse idea. One could say both attempt to publicly humiliate the offender, thereby preventing further crime by the listed individual. But if Maine wants to get tough on crime, why did the Cumberland County Commissioners deny the Sheriff’s department’s request for hiring a drug agent to cover the Lakes Region, which cops say is becoming a hotbed of drug use? That’s a way to stop drugs. Hire more investigators. They’re fantastic at sniffing out drug rings. They can make real inroads and do much to prevent drug abuse and the ripple-effect robberies a drug habit can cause. We need to focus more money and effort on the prevention side of Maine’s drug problem.

Public humiliation, in the form of a drug offender registry, would only go so far. It may work on good people. But bad seeds, as most drug dealers are, don’t care what others think. They care only about their next fix or the money.

But there are those drug dealers who can be rehabilitated. If we put them on an Internet list in perpetuity, these folks will never be able to earn a good reputation. Their neighbors and potential employers will always have access to their innermost shame. Most importantly, the cycle of violence and crime will perpetuate itself because they will have no chance to land a decent job.

For these untouchables, a drug offender registry would be like the 18th century’s public stocks where they are tarred and feathered daily in front of all who have an Internet connection. The registry is wrong for this reason, and, dare we say, borders on cruel and unusual punishment.

But this real danger of permanent public humiliation isn’t the only problem with a drug offender registry. A public drug offender listing would not only ostracize offenders, but according to the Maine Civil Liberties Union, it would also provide street addresses for those seeking drugs. Imagine it! This registry would be a veritable address book for those trying to find new sources or more potent drugs. All a user would have to do is check out the state of Maine Web site and, voila, hundreds and perhaps thousands of names and addresses would pop up. How convenient!

The drug culture is becoming more pervasive. Recent drug rings – even a big one at the local Windham High – have proven that fact. But we need to get tougher on crime not by outing the criminals but by stopping the criminals. Lawmakers should beef up the police force. And they should punish these criminals severely with stronger, longer sentences.

And, most importantly, the culture should get back to treating marijuana, considered the gateway to all other drugs, as a real threat and not a rite of passage for our teens and a recreational drug for adults. When we can take some preventive steps, we’ll be on the road to recovery.

-John Balentine, editor

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