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Montana prosecutor wants addiction treated, not criminalized

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Posted at 8:11 AM, Oct 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-24 10:24:02-04

BUTTE - It’s in the Butte District Courtroom where punishment is handed out for a crime, but for those people who are severely addicted, the punishment is often not a strong enough deterrent to their addiction.

One local prosecutor believes the system has to change to deal with these types of offenders.

“We have to look at what we’re doing with people that are addicted. I don’t think there’s enough help out there for mental health, for addiction, and I think that’s causing it all to swell,” said Butte Chief Deputy County Attorney Ann Shea.

The courts are seeing many repeat offenders whose crimes are often related to funding their addictions to opioids and other dangerous drugs.

Most people charged with drug possession are given a delayed sentence and ordered to seek treatment while on probation.

“I had a young lady probably a year or two ago, 18 years old, she got a deferred sentence. Within a matter of six months, she was already at another charge. You know, at 18 years old, your brain’s not fully developed yet and you’re expected to turn your life around, it just doesn’t work,” said Shea.

Shea believes those arrested for drug possession should not be criminally charged, but ordered by the court to a drug treatment facility instead.

Without addiction treatment, Shea believes offenders will continue to repeat their crimes.

“If we’re not treating it up front like that and having the resources to do that then we’re just on a hamster wheel,” she said.

Many Neighborhood Watch groups in Butte say they’ve seen an increase in crime in recent years and believe drug use is the culprit.

“The drugs have changed, the crime has changed based on the drugs, they are highly addictive, some of them are prescribed, some are manufactured,” said Allison Andersen, who heads the City Center Neighborhood Watch Group.

Shea says it will take action and funding from the Montana Legislature to fund a system based on addiction recovery.