SC Federal Prosecutor Tries “Seismic Shift” For Low-Level Drug Offenders


U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles in South Carolina is testing out a different approach to dealing with drug-related crime, one that aims to clean up the streets by looking beyond mass arrests and incarceration, reports the Huffington Post. Conway is the third city in South Carolina to implement a version of the plan, and federal prosecutors in other states and the Justice Department are watching closely. The program could become a model for law enforcement. “What I want to do is to make the people’s lives who are law-abiding citizens in this community better,” Nettles said. “Incarceration is no longer the goal, but is one of many tools available to allow you to effect your goal of improving their lives. It represents a fundamental shift, a seismic shift in terms of how you’re viewing what you’re doing.”

Nettles’ plan is surprisingly straightforward. First, federal and local prosecutors identify local drug dealers with the help of the police, probation officers and community members. They build criminal cases against them, and usually arresting the dealers would be the next order of business. Nettles has a different idea. While high-level dealers are prosecuted, some low-level offenders are given another option. For them, Nettles stages something of an intervention. Together with the police, family members, religious leaders and others, prosecutors present the dealers with the evidence against them and give them a choice: Face the prospect of prison or participate in the pilot project. The program, officially known as the Drug Market Intervention Initiative, helps the dealers find legitimate jobs and offers them help with drug treatment, education and transportation. The hope is that it provides them with the support and the motivation they need to turn their lives around.

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