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|Jones: Drug-related crimes worse than ever|
Editor's note: This is the first in a series of articles with 4th Judicial District Attorney Jerry Jones concerning the drug problem in Ouachita Parish.
The drug epidemic in America is probably the largest contributing factor to the increase in people in prisons.
That's according to 4th Judicial District Attorney Jerry Jones, who in his 19 years as district attorney for Morehouse and Ouachita parishes, has seen more and more people return to jail due to drug addiction or drug-related crimes.
"I believe statistics will tell you that 75 percent of people in the penitentiary today are there because of substance abuse, drugs and drug-related crimes," Jones said. "The charge may not be possession of cocaine. The charge may be burglary or auto theft, but in most cases, that is a drug-related crime because the crime was committed to obtain drugs."
"And, it is on the rise," Jones continued. "Due to the easy access of drugs by people in our community, we have a larger increase in the number of people being arrested for drug crimes and drug-related crimes."
Drugs can easily be obtained by people in the community. For example, if someone wants to obtain prescription drugs, he or she can simply visit the Internet and purchase drugs from companies in Mexico. This can be done without a doctor's prescription and the drugs will be shipped to the buyer's address.
Also, after the North American Free Trade Agreement was implemented in 1994, more and more trucks hauling large quantities of narcotics began crossing the U.S. border at Canada and Mexico.
Jones can look at the traffic on Interstate 20 from his office in the Courthouse Annex in downtown Monroe and watch as 18-wheelers pass by. For every person stopped and arrested for transporting large quantities of marijuana or cocaine, many more get through unknown to local law enforcement.
They travel to Atlanta where the drugs are eventually distributed all over the country, Jones said.
"A year before NAFTA came into effect, the small town of Laredo, Texas, had approximately 40,000 18-wheelers a year that crossed the border," Jones explained. "Today, that same border crossing in Laredo has over a million trucks a year that cross the border. The border control can't hire enough people to search those trucks. They can't hire enough people to wave bye at that many trucks. Therefore, the importation of drugs into America across the border from Mexico is wide open, and we can't stop it."
Interstate 10 and I-20 are now pipelines for drug traffic, he said.
"There's no telling how many tons of marijuana just passed us on that interstate just 100 yards away," Jones said as he peered out the window of his office. "It's constantly going down that highway, and you cannot search every truck. You cannot stop every 18-wheeler going down that highway."
"You catch them when you can through long-term investigation of who is using and who is selling," Jones added.
Internet drug trafficking is not much different, according to Jones.
"People who get these drugs off the Internet are generally not just using it, but selling it, and it is through investigation and good law enforcement that they make the arrests," Jones said. "We have good law enforcement here. Ouachita Parish is probably blessed with the best law enforcement in the state of Louisiana. I do not say that to flatter anyone, we just simply have the best in the state. They work hard … we have agents working on drugs with years of experience, and that's how you combat this problem.
"Can you catch them all? No. But a drug abuser will turn into a drug addict, and eventually we will get that person. That person will have to surface.
"Drug addicts will eventually surface because they have to have treatment. And when we get them, we have to treat them, rehab them and withdraw them from drugs."
He said the criminal justice system must transition from simply warehousing drug addicts in prison to treating drug addicts to end their addiction. If this is not done, drug addicts will continue the same lifestyle and most likely return to prison again and again.