The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

April 13, 2014

Carol Stark: So-called ‘justice’ system in need of another look

JOPLIN, Mo. — Velma Crain has lived much of her adult life as an addict. The drug methamphetamine has robbed her of quality of life and her relationships with her family.

The 48-year-old rural Joplin woman is now fighting a rare form of gynecological cancer. Her days are filled with chemotherapy treatments and pain.

 When I read Globe reporter Emily Younker’s story about Crain in our April 6 edition, I saw this woman as a victim of bad decisions, the powerful stranglehold of meth and an awful disease — one with which I’m all too familiar.

But the courts may see her in a very different light. On Monday, Crain could learn whether or not she will be sent back to prison. Crain, in 2010, was sentenced to six years in state prison for possession of meth and a narcotic for which she did not have a prescription. She served one year of that sentence in a long-term drug treatment program at a women’s prison in Vandalia. She was released in October 2011 on a five-year probation period.

In May of 2013, Crain was a passenger in a car that was pulled over. A Joplin police officer, in a probable-cause statement, said she showed signs of meth use. A baggie of meth was found outside the vehicle, and the officer, in his report, alleged it had not been there prior to Crain having access to that area. Crain denies it was hers.

She was also cited recently for a failed drug test but insists it was related to her pain medications.

Now, Crain is fearful — let’s just call it scared — that she will be sent back to prison if she is found to be in violation of her probation. She’s in limbo about how cancer treatments would be handled if she is returned. She sees that return as being as good as a death sentence for her.

We learned of Crain’s story through a relative who came to us “because we have nowhere else to go.” Perhaps it was that plea more than anything that led us to do this particular profile. Part of a newspaper’s job is to provide a voice to those who have none.

There are some who, if Crain is found guilty of violating her probation, think she should go back to prison, cancer or not. It’s a matter of justice, they have told us. Do the crime, do the time, they say.

But what justice is there, I have to wonder, in sending a sick person to prison? And why does Crain belong there? It’s been nearly a year since she was arrested.

If she was viewed as a threat to society, wouldn’t the wheels of so-called justice have turned much faster?

We are told that inmates in prison have access to medical services paid for by the taxpayers, but advocates of a reform of the criminal justice system say prisoners with life-threatening health issues should have other options for punishment.

Former Missouri Supreme Court Jusice William Ray Price Jr. has said that states should be focused on reducing the number of nonviolent offenders in jail, and there’s a growing number of people who agree.

I see no reason for Crain to take up space in a crowded prison system. I expect we need more room for murderers, child molesters and those who would abuse and harm their fellow man.  

Missouri’s criminal justice system needs an overhaul, or we might as well drop the word “justice” altogether.

I will think of Velma Crain on Monday, not because  she shouldn’t have to face the consequences of her “crimes,” but because she already is — every single day.

Carol Stark is editor of The Joplin Globe. Address correspondence to her, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email cstark@joplinglobe.com.

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