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Public Defender Speaks Out on Criminal Justice Issues

When a subject-matter expert talks about their own field, it’s usually worth listening to. And when Richard Hughes, a Public Defender with the 10th Judicial District in Cleveland, Tennessee gave a pair of interviews to the Cleveland Daily Banner, he brought both the authority and experience of his position to bear. In the second article in the series, Hughes talks about plea bargaining and whether jailing someone for drug crimes is warranted or productive.

Hughes calls it “alternative sentencing” and makes the point that society is better served sometimes with setting aside a jail term in favor of other options. Plea agreements of some type are already the norm. As the article states:
” The public defender's office closed 8,768 cases in fiscal year 2012 between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012. That same year, 54.3 percent of all criminal cases ended in a guilty plea as charged, as opposed to only 4.62 percent convicted after trial. “

The larger point Hughes makes is that the criminal justice system doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Offenders arrive with a variety of problems and locking them up for many simply doesn’t solve much. Addicts who turn to crime to finance an addiction would be a classic case of one problem (medical and social) spawning other problems (legal). When they are incarcerated, without treatment, most simply return to the lifestyle they know, for the same reasons they first fell into it, and the cycle repeats.

The point is brought home with the rise of methamphetamine use in the 10th District. Addicts are sent to a residential treatment program in Davison County because no equivalent program exists locally. These are non-violent offenders who might only be further victimized by putting them in jail. Not all are successful in kicking meth, but shouldn’t those who do improve be enough justification for treatment as an alternative to jail? Hughes thinks so, and calls for new ideas that would bring other possibilities and choices before judges and prosecutors.


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