Editor’s Note: This is the final of a series of columns recognizing May as National Drug Court Month.
In May of 2018, I was elected to serve as Graves County’s new Commonwealth’s Attorney. I took office in January 2019. As I prepared to take on this new endeavor, one of the most important tasks to me was consulting with leadership from each law enforcement agency serving Graves County. By meeting with these leaders in law enforcement, I was able to learn specifically what things needed to be improved upon to ensure a safer Graves County.
I met with leadership from the Mayfield Police Department, the Graves County Sheriff’s Office, and the Kentucky State Police. All three agencies offered valuable insight on how the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office could be improved. There was one common theme that I heard from all three law enforcement agencies: We must improve the prosecutorial response to the drug crisis.
Even before running to be the next Commonwealth’s Attorney, I was reviewing various approaches across the nation to combat our extensive drug problem. There’s a clear consensus now among law enforcement, nationwide and in our community, that we will not incarcerate our way out of substance abuse problems.
In 2020, I created the Drug Enforcement Unit (DEU) of the Graves County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, led by John J. Beasley, II, Asst. Commonwealth’s Attorney. Make no mistake, the Graves County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office prosecutes aggressively and routinely secures significant prison sentences against those in our community that traffic in controlled substance for profit. This is especially true for any individuals that engage in violence. I’ve been told by multiple members of law enforcement that many criminals in our community have taken notice of the increased penalties for these types of crimes.
However, when prosecuting individuals that are non-violent addicts, charged with only the possession of controlled substance and crimes such as petty theft and other nonviolent crimes, our approach is different. We require intensive substance abuse treatment, with the looming threat of incarceration if treatment is not completed.
I’ve been a prosecutor since January 2007 and the best results from any substance abuse treatment program I’ve seen over my career have consistently come from Graves County’s Drug Court Program. I was one of a few prosecutors at our county’s introduction to the Drug Court program in 2007. Kim Brand has been at the helm since the beginning. Mrs. Brand immediately struck me as well-informed, highly motivated, and extremely intelligent. Graves County is lucky to have her. The program has continued to gain in strength since then, thanks not only to Mrs. Brand, but also to the leadership of Hon. Timothy C. Stark, Graves Circuit Court Judge, retired.
I, like many, used to believe that an addict could only succeed at treatment if he really wanted to succeed and voluntarily entered treatment. It was Judge Stark that first made me aware of the data supporting the conclusion that success rates of substance abuse treatment are often similar regardless of whether the treatment was voluntarily or compulsory.
You cannot successfully fight crime and protect a community without combatting substance abuse. Drug Court has been, and will remain, a valuable weapon in this important battle.