The case of the man suspected of killing a North Carolina police chief’s daughter points to a fundamental criminal justice issue, says the Charlotte Observer in an editorial. Michael Neal Harvey was on probation; among the conditions were requirements not to use or possess illegal drugs and to “complete all treatment.” The question is why wasn't Harvey already in prison? Police accuse him of murdering Valerie Hamilton, 23, whose body was found in a storage unit. A probation officer apparently did not seek to have Harvey incarcerated after he was charged with possessing drug paraphernalia, a gun, counterfeit heroin, and breaking into a car. Nor did judges send him to prison after several earlier probation violations.
Harvey, 34, says Hamilton “OD'd in her sleep.” Regardless of how she died, Harvey is in deep trouble. His criminal record is long. The question, says the Observer, is whether it is better to punish an addict or send him into treatment. What if rehab doesn't work? When do you give up on a probationer and incarcerate him? Should you lock up everyone for minor crimes stemming from addiction? If so, how can you afford to build and run the prisons? It costs N.C. taxpayers $26,955 a year to keep an inmate. In the past year, budget cuts forced seven prisons to close. Concludes the paper: The question that “should haunt us all is how many other Michael Harveys are there, and what do you do about them?”