Virginia has made remarkable progress in assuring public safety and helping to keep communities free from crime:
- Parole has been abolished and criminal sentencing reformed to ensure the integrity of our criminal justice system;
- The juvenile justice system has been reformed, instilling within it a new philosophy that holds juveniles who commit serious offenses accountable for their actions.
These important changes have paid off – Virginia has seen the rate of serious crimes fall significantly. In 1998, the Index Crime Rate reached its lowest point since 1974 and had fallen by 24% from its peak in early 1990’s. To maintain this momentum, the Gilmore Administration has increased resources and instituted new programs to help localities across the state in their efforts to promote safety and fight crime and violence:
- State funding for local police departments was more than doubled;
- The number of state-funded sheriffs’ deputies was increased;
- Grant funds have been provided to enable school systems to employ school resource officers; and,
- Virginia Exile was launched to help get illegal guns and those who use them off the streets.
Unfortunately, there is one very significant part of our crime problem that shows no sign of abating, and in fact, seems to be getting worse. Illegal drugs continue to infect our communities, draining community resources, and endangering neighborhoods, businesses, and families. Key State and national indicators of the drug problem contradict the encouraging trends we see with respect to other crimes.
Virginia’s drug arrest rate—for possession or sale of Schedule I/II narcotics or marijuana—increased by 60% between 1988 and 1998.
In 1988, there were slightly more than 16,000 adult and juvenile drug arrest, in 1998, more than 30,000. That’s more than three times the number of arrests for all violent offenses reported in 1998.
These arrests have an impact on our corrections system: In 1998, persons convicted of drug offenses made up nearly ¼ of all new inmates committed to the Department of Corrections.
In 1997, juvenile offenders with drug related charges represented 10% of new probation cases, while approximately 50% of juvenile offenders met criteria indicating a need for substance abuse treatment.
In 1998, the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse estimated that an alarming 13.6 million Americans were users of illicit drugs. The survey estimated that over 4 million people, including 1 million youths between the ages of 12 and 17, met the diagnostic criteria for dependence on illicit drugs.
Other survey data documents the link between drugs and crime. The 1997 Bureau of Justice Statistics Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities shows that one third of the nation’s prison inmates reported being under the influence of drugs when they committed the crimes for which they received prison time.
The same survey shows that nearly 20% of inmates in state prisons in 1997 said they committed their current offenses in order to get money for drugs.
We face an imminent threat from methamphetamine, a drug more powerful than crack cocaine that can be produced using commercially available products found anywhere in the United States. Once confined primarily to the western and southwestern states, methamphetamine manufacturing and use has spread rapidly throughout the midwest. We now have evidence that it is invading Virginia. Crystal methamphetamine or “ice” has been linked to violent crime in far greater proportions than the crack epidemic of the late 1980’s. The highly volatile methamphetamine chemicals and the makeshift laboratories used to manufacture the drug, often located in homes and garages, cause deadly explosions and fires. The byproducts of this manufacturing process are toxic and must be disposed of properly. Methamphetamine is a threat to public safety, public health, and our natural resources.
While our accomplishments in overall crime reduction have been heartening, there is yet more work to be done. If we are to rid our streets and neighborhoods of illegal drugs, help those caught in the downward spiral of abuse and dependence, and prevent others from becoming drug-involved, we need to act decisively to strengthen our drug control triangle of enforcement, treatment and prevention. For the triangle to work successfully, each side must work in unison/equilaterally.
The Solution = SABRE
Our enforcement efforts focus on identifying, arresting, and incarcerating the dealers who prey on our communities and who bring their poison into Virginia. Harsher drug distribution penalties send a message to those selling drugs that they will face serious punishment for their actions.
Our treatment efforts focus on drug control laws and correctional policies, which emphasize alcohol and drug testing, alcohol and drug treatment, and close community supervision and treatment services, if necessary, for first-time offenders and for those being released from prison. The mandatory treatment component promotes changes in habits of addiction and abuse.
Finally, our prevention efforts concentrate on models with proven track records. The Governor’s Office on Substance Abuse Prevention (OSAP) unifies the Commonwealth’s efforts in this area.