Welfare fraud, heroin abuse… unproductive citizens a burden on society

GREENVILLE – You have to instill an attitude where you know you are responsible for yourself. You have to have a support system behind them. And there has to be a shift in social attitude… commit the crime, pay the price? “You’ve done your time. Done your probation. But the societal attitude is still there,” said Darke County Common Pleas Judge Jonathan Hein.

Hein and his Chief Probation officer James Mollette took time out of their schedules to take a look at the crimes – and criminals – they deal with on a daily basis.

In excess of 50 percent – possibly as high as 67 percent – of the crimes committed in Darke County are in some way related to substance abuse. This could be prescription drug abuse, alcohol or illegal drugs. A Greenville source says that number is probably closer to 75 percent in the city. While offenders don’t usually see ‘time’ for possession of marijuana (it’s a misdemeanor in Ohio), robberies, thefts and breaking and entering are often committed in order to obtain those substances.

Mollette takes it one step further. “When we start working with someone (in probation) on a crime that’s totally unrelated, we often discover there’s a drug or alcohol issue involved.” Mollette added he was not a fan of legal marijuana, which has been a topic of discussion in a number of states, including Ohio. “I still believe it’s a gateway drug… I started seeing that early on (in my career).” He added there is one unique aspect… today they are also seeing heroin addicts who started with prescription drugs and alcohol.

Hein expanded the discussion. “Is welfare fraud any different than heroin abuse?” he asked. “Probably not. Either way they have the idea government is going to take care of them.” He added those who commit welfare fraud, like those who abuse drugs or commit property crimes, tend to be unproductive citizens. It can be an engrained attitude, or it could be a sense of hopelessness. Either way, unproductive citizens are a burden on society.

“We want higher functioning people,” he said. “Employers want higher functioning workers.”

Hein said those who walk into probation tend to be in “some kind of funk.” Mollette added the people typically coming in are unproductive. “The goal of probation is to get them productive… kind of like a coach.”

Hein noted the whole criminal justice system is no longer about punishment; its goal is to educate. House Bill 86 (2011) formalized emphasis on education. Will it succeed? Too soon to tell. Can it succeed? “Oh yeah,” said Hein, “If we can figure out which populations are worth investing in. We need to help the people who want to help themselves.”

Is there an impact beyond the typical individual they see? “Absolutely,” said Mollette. “It has an impact on the family. We have people coming into our system because of this.” He’s now seeing the next generations of those he saw before.

So how can that be addressed? “It’s important to have that conversation ongoing,” Mollette said.

Hein added, “At some point kids already know about it (drugs, alcohol)… the ideas are already ongoing by fourth and fifth grades. We have to have some competition for those ideas; we have to get them thinking of different ideas. That competition for ideas has to start at school. If we wait until high school, the idea’s already there.”

Hein recalled a time when a fourth grade class was polled… most kids said they wanted to be like their parents. “In my generation that wasn’t good enough,” Hein said. “We had to be better!” That was American exceptionalism; the component that drove his generation.

“All day long I deal with the five percent,” he said. “I don’t see exceptionalism. But if you look at 4H, the trades, college… those kids want to improve themselves.”

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