After seven years of being addicted to meth, Jennifer Ploof had ‘‘lost absolutely everything.’’ She had been jailed 10 times, convicted of possession of...

After seven years of being addicted to meth, Jennifer Ploof had ‘‘lost absolutely everything.’’

She had been jailed 10 times, convicted of possession of methamphetamine and possession with intent to sell the powerful drug.

Meth ‘‘made me lie, do harm to others, made me abandon my child,’’ Ploof says.

Ploof, 27, is now in recovery from her addiction. She went through intensive inpatient treatment at Women’s Outreach in Rome for five months. She now has a job, and is in the process of getting her child back.

“I was sick and tired of being sick and tired,’’ she says. “A second chance saved me.’’

Ploof was among hundreds of Georgians recovering from addictions who attended a rally Monday at the state Capitol, on the first day of the 2012 General Assembly.

Gov. Nathan Deal, other state officials and lawmakers addressed the crowd, emphasizing the theme of criminal justice reform  –  alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders through special courts.

Through chants, signs and T-shirts, people at the rally expressed support for recovery programs and concern about the possibility that the state will lose about $20 million in supplemental funds from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. The money goes to residential and outpatient programs that help women recover from addictions and keep their children out of foster care.
The Women’s Outreach program that helped Ploof serves 250 women per year, providing residential and outpatient treatment for addiction, as well as helping their children.

“I got a second chance,’’ Ploof said. “If people don’t get that second chance, they will die.’’

Deal told the rally that his budget proposes $10 million to establish more ‘‘accountability courts’’ in Georgia. These include drug courts and mental health courts, created to help offenders avoid jail time through rigorous rehabilitation programs. The number of accountability courts nationwide has grown to more than 3,000 since their inception in the early 1990s.

Georgia has the fourth-highest prison population in the nation, with many of the inmates reporting alcohol or drug problems.

Many of these special courts  –  which monitor offenders with tough requirements to hold a job, stay in treatment and pass drug tests  –  have shown strong success rates, but they are not available throughout the state, the AJC noted in a recent article.

Henry County, where 25 percent of the arrests last year involved drugs or alcohol, recently set up an adult felony drug court, an 18-month intensive rehabilitation program.

A special council appointed last year to study the state’s prison population and criminal code has recommended a shift in emphasis toward alternatives to prison time for nonviolent offenders. Supporters say the move would save money for Georgia, which spends more than $1 billion a year on prisons.

Unless addiction is addressed, Deal said, the state’s jails and prisons will continue to have revolving doors.

“We know there are better ways to deal with the problem,’’ said the governor, who began his career in public service as a prosecutor. “We must deal with it on the front end.’’

Deal’s son Jason, a judge in a Hall County drug court, told the rally that he has seen how recovery from addiction can work. “It’s time for us to try something new – something that works,’’ Jason Deal told the rally. “This is not a partisan issue or a soft-on-crime issue.’’

Reforming our criminal justice system would give Georgians who have made mistakes a second chance, added House Speaker David Ralston.

A second chance like Jennifer Ploof had.

“I am now a taxpaying member of society,’’ she says. “I’m proud of it.’


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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

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