Gov. Maggie Hassan threw out a lot of so-so ideas in her State of the State address last week. One that was considerably better than so-so was her proposal to replace prison terms with substance abuse treatment for first-time drug-use offenders.
“I do not believe that a young person with a substance problem should end up in jail, prison or with a criminal record on their first offense,” she said. “That is why I would support a comprehensive review of our criminal code and our sentences to consider alternative options that will focus on treatment first.”
This newspaper has advocated similar changes for years. When a criminal offender is convicted and sentenced to prison, he is not handed over to the state Department of Punishment. He is remanded to the Department of Corrections. That name was chosen with purpose. The point of the prison system is not simply to punish. It is to correct, to reform. Not every criminal will be changed, obviously. But we do many of those who enter our corrections system a disservice by simply locking them up. At the top of that list are drug addicts.
If we can divert addicts from a life of crime rather than seal their fate by sending them untreated to gang school, we will improve the lives of everyone. How to do that is well worth the serious study Gov. Hassan has recommended.