Chris Powell: Not worth it to chase addicts


Three East Hartford, Conn., police officers were lucky to survive their interrupting aheroin addict's injecting himself in a car in a hotel parking lot last week. 

Speeding off, the addict, Kevin McNeilly, ran his car into them, prompting an officer to fire hisgun at the addict, hitting the addict's car and a parked car. After a chase inwhich the addict drove with only three tires, chewed up lawns, and crashed intothe gate of an apartment complex, he was apprehended four miles away.   

The incident raises several serious questions.    The first is the question with all criminal drug law: Was the police actionworth the trouble and particularly the risk to the lives of the officers and thedrivers and pedestrians near the chase?   

Why should lives of the bravest public servants and innocent civilians bejeopardized only to prevent some poor soul from jeopardizing his own life?   

It would have been far better if the police had let the addict shoot up and thenblocked him from driving away while calling an ambulance for him. It might havebeen better even to have left him alone entirely. For as developments in hiscase were to suggest the next day, drug criminalization is futile.

The second question is about Connecticut's criminal-justice system itself.    Striving to create what he calls a "second-chance society," Gov. Dannel Malloy hasbecome Connecticut's first governor to get serious about criminal recidivism,  the cycle of crime, imprisonment, release, return to crime, and moreimprisonment, a cycle that traps two-thirds or more of the state's criminaloffenders, most of them fatherless and neglected young men produced by thewelfare system. This cycle ruins lives and causes huge public expense.   

The governor's initiatives, which have included reducing criminal penalties forsimple drug possession, are crucial insofar as they mean reducing the law'smanufacture of offenders and rehabilitating offenders, ensuring that upon their  release from prison they are educated and physically and mentally healthy enoughfor decent work and have access to housing and health care.  

But as many other sensational crimes in Connecticut do, last week's incident inEast Hartford showed that the state long has been something far beyond a"second-chance society."  

For at his arraignment in Manchester Superior Court on the day after theincident, the addict not only confessed to buying heroin but was confirmed tohave a record of 32 criminal convictions dating to 1981, including convictionsfor burglary, robbery and larceny, and to be serving probation from aconviction in New Jersey for selling untaxed cigarettes. Most of these offensesseem connected to his drug problem.  

Anyone with 32 convictions and a drug problem extending over 34 years is plainlyincorrigible and surely has committed many more crimes than he has beenapprehended for. But Connecticut has no "three strikes" or even "10 strikes" lawand the state's prosecutors and courts ignore incorrigibility for anything shortof murder.   

So the guy who ran into the East Hartford officers, like so many other criminals-- some of them addicts, many of them not, many of them murderers, like themurderers of the Petit family in Cheshire, in 2007, and a man with 27 convictionswho was charged in November with a murder in Middlebury -- are allowed to liveessentially as make-work projects for police, prosecutors, public defenders,  judges, probation officers, and social workers, being sent to prison for lifeonly after they get around to killing someone.   

That's why the third question arising from last week's incident in East Hartfordis: As Connecticut properly strives to create a "second-chance society," will itever do anything about the damage caused by the 32nd-chance society it long has been?

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.