Billy Ray Hughes
MADISON COUNTY —
Wouldn’t it be nice if more of our problems were simple? Sometimes it seems that everything is connected to everything else. Take our overcrowded jail.
The vast majority of crimes committed today have their roots in some kind of substance abuse. Whether it is murder, assault, robbery, breaking and entering, domestic violence, DUI or public intoxication, substance abuse is generally at the base.
Numerous studies put the percent of the population with substance abuse issues anywhere between 5 and 10 percent of the total population. This means there would be over 4,000 people with substance abuse problems in Madison County based on the 5 percent model. Our jail is designed to hold approximately 200 but frequently averages over 250 guests.
We have been learning that incarceration is an expensive but ineffective means of addressing substance abuse issues.
Jail/prison overcrowding is caused by the increase in the growing number of crimes caused by substance abuse. Madison County, like many other Kentucky counties, is utilizing home incarceration programs to help alleviate jail overcrowding and save taxpayer money. These inmates have electronic ankle bracelets that track their movements. If they move out of designated areas they are targeted to be re-arrested.
Home incarceration is a good first step, but this is where it starts to get complicated. A substance abuser has little chance of overcoming their addiction without some form of professional treatment. Substance abuse treatment services are very limited in Madison County and can only serve a fraction of the addicts.
I am not sure the county could build a jail big enough to hold all the addicts. Are you starting to get the picture?
Can we at least talk about what can be done to slow the flow of new addicts into our population? You remember the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” How much better is it to prevent a person from becoming a substance abuser in the first place?
Prevention must start at an early age. Studies have shown that a child who drinks alcohol before age 14 is seven times more likely to be alcohol dependent than a person who waits until age 21. Recent research indicates that alcohol and tobacco are bigger gateway drugs than previously thought.
Many local governments are enacting Social Host Ordinances that hold adults accountable for alcohol being served to minors on their property. This serves to act as a deterrent to underage drinking. Sixty-nine percent of high school students responded in a survey that the alcohol they drink is at a friend’s house.
All three of our local governments adopting a joint social host ordinance would be a small step toward preventing future substance abusers.
You can learn more about social host ordinances doing an Internet search.
As always I am appreciative of your thoughts on these and other issues in our county.
Billy Ray Hughes is a Madison County Magistrate and manager of a local manufacturing plant. He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.