Julia O'Malley

Julia O'Malley writes a general interest column about life and politics in Anchorage and around Alaska. She grew up in Anchorage and has worked at the ADN on and off as a columnist and reporter since 1996. She came back full time as a reporter in 2005.

As a reporter, she covered the court system and wrote extensively about life in Anchorage, including big changes in the city's ethnic and minority communities.

In 2008, she won the Scripps-Howard Foundation's Ernie Pyle award for the best human-interest writing in America. She has also written for the Oregonian, the Juneau Empire and the Anchorage Press.

E-mail her at jomalley@adn.com.

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Is there a better way to deal with addicts in the court system?

In the process of writing today's story, I did some research, looking at communities that have programs that deal specifically with heroin-addicted defendants.

In Baltimore, which has a significant problem with heroin, a special drug court deals with drug-addicted defendants. Their sentences can include residential or out-patient drug treatment, free or low-cost methadone, and housing. Studies in Maryland have shown that helping defendants deal with their addictions is cheaper than cycling them through the court system for repeated drug-related crime.
Baltimore also has a diversion program for prostitutes that gives them drug treatment, sober housing, and job training.

As I wrote in today's story Anchorage has a small drug and alcohol Wellness Court program that allows people who have committed some types of drug and alcohol-related crimes to go directly to intensive out-patient treatment instead of jail. But a program like this depends on there treatment being available in the community.

Jeeni Jarvis is the project manager for program. She has worked in the addiction field for 30 years.

“I have never seen treatment as difficult to access,” she said. “There is an astonishing lack of treatment in the community.”

So why is that?

Rosalie Nadeau, the executive director of Akeela, told me it has to do with the priorities of the Legislature and the governor. Over the years, drug treatment has not been a priority. In fact, Akeela House, one of the oldest treatment programs for serious addiction in Anchorage, is now being funded below the level it was funded in 1992, even though Anchorage's population has grown.

Nadeau often speaks to groups about funding treatment. She tell them that addicts are the people no one wants to see, deal with or pay for. But, unfortunately, we always end up paying for them.

"We can pay more or we can pay less," she tells them.

Paying for treatment is actually the most cost effective, she said.

What do you think? Are there cheaper, better ways to handle drug addicts in the court system?

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