This past Saturday we were out in the public for a fundraising benefit on behalf of our homeless veterans' project, Emmaus House – Albuquerque. We are developing an assisted living facility dedicated specifically to our homeless veterans, men and women who are alone in the world, with no family or next of kin, and with only a few months left to live.
A lady walked up to me and began to relate a story which I find to be deplorable. She is a full-time volunteer at our VA hospital. Her story concerned the manner in which the local law enforcement agencies are treating our homeless veterans who are being arrested for 'public drunkenness,' or public intoxication'; or, in the alternative for an offense related to medical disease: alcohol addiction. Given the fact there is a treatment unit at the VA hospital, here in Albuquerque, dedicated to the treatment of the disease, to arrest and prosecute these men and women, who answered the call of a nation when it had a need is deplorable. It is beyond deplorable.
We, all of us, owe a tremendous debt to the men and women who responded to the military needs of this country with a willingness to stand in harm's way for our benefit. Placing them in jail and prosecuting them for behaviors directly related to a disease is ridiculous. The government of Canada has for many years offered treatment versus criminal prosecution and incarceration to those addicted to drugs. The rate of recidivism took a nose dive once the individuals were placed in a treatment program. Indeed, in those areas of the United States where jail time was replaced with treatment the same drop in recidivism was achieved.
There is an upside to offering treatment versus punishment. The individual becomes a productive member of society. Someone who has, for whatever reason, lost a well-deserved dignity, is able to once again lay claim to it. The courts realize a reduction in the case loads of such petty crimes. And law enforcement sees a reduction in paperwork and overtime due to the lessened petty crime case load, freeing up time better spent on real crime perpetrated by real criminals.
That alcoholism, indeed any addiction, is attributable to genetic factors at a greater degree than to the environment is a fact. It is a fact which needs to be recognized in this country more so than it is today. What better place than right here in the Land of Enchantment, our beloved New Mexico, a state which enjoys a larger military presence than others of greater land area.
We call on the law enforcement agencies in the State of New Mexico to accept this fact and to establish a working relationship with the veteran hospitals and clinics so as to ensure these men and women are given treatment for a disease rather than a punishment which serves no real purpose, and a punishment which further burdens our veterans as well as our already burdened legal system.
Father Chris Laine
The Order of Saint Patrick (Patricians)
Emmaus House – Albuquerque