O'BRIEN: Kids shouldn't be caught in the middle of meth messes

Posted: Mar. 1, 2013 2:07 pm Updated: Apr. 13, 2013 3:15 am

Adams County Circuit Judge William Mays sounded an alarm of sorts on Monday. A day later, he acted.

Mays is one of many people in the criminal justice system who has to deal with Quincy's seemingly never-ending methamphetamine problem. Meth cases make up a healthy portion of the felony docket most day at the Adams County Courthouse.

Though the facts of each case are different, the root of them are the same: Meth is an addictive drug that is tough to kick.

The state of Illinois has tried to do what it can from a prevention standpoint by making all meth cases a felony. Those felonies can range from a Class 3 on the low end, which could result in two to five years in the Illinois Department of Corrections, to a Class X on the high end, which has a sentencing window of between six and 30 years.

It's up to the judges to figure out whether the offender should go to prison or have a chance at rehabilitation. It can't be an easy decision. It's rare to see a meth addict who isn't remorseful about what they've done. Judges have to have the best B.S. detectors around to decide whether what they're hearing is the truth.

The toughest cases involve children. It has to be difficult sending people off to prison knowing that a child is going to be without a mother or father. Then again, there should be consequences for actions.

This is where the lawmakers can make judges' lives a bit easier. If you're caught making meth where kids live, it should be mandatory prison time. The same goes for those who cook around the disabled and the elderly. Those caught producing where children, the elderly and the disabled live are charged with Class X felonies, but could still get probation.

It's hard to tell if Mays reached his boiling point this week, but he had some strong things to say during a sentencing hearing on Monday. He reluctantly went along with a negotiated plea of for 23-year-old Angel D.R. Smith. She received 24 months probation after pleading guilty last month to unlawful possession of meth precursors, a felony. She was given TASC probation, meaning the conviction will be stricken from her record if she successfully completes probation.

Mays made it clear that if Smith didn't walk the straight and narrow, he will revoke probation. He also had a warning for others who get caught cooking where their kids live.

"The next time I see a drug case with a child involved, I might not take a plea that includes probation," he said. "Maybe they need to go to the Department of Corrections because they are doing a pee-poor job of taking care of their children."

Among the testimony presented in an October preliminary hearing was the fact a "one-pot" shake-and-bake bottle was found four to six feet away from the crib of an 18-month-old.

Less than 24 hours later, Mays made good on the promise. He recused himself from another case where meth was being produced in a house where children lived, then wouldn't accept a negotiated plea for probation in a case involving Felicia K. Conners and John W. Reed of Quincy.

In both cases, the parents have temporarily lost custody of their children.

"If you don't deal with (their meth problems), you will wind up in the Department of Corrections," Mays told the couple. "If you want your children back, you have to do what Chaddock wants you to, what the Probation Department wants you to do and what your counselors want you to do."

Unfortunately, stories like these aren't going to stop coming across Mays' desk. Maybe those who are thinking about messing with meth around their kids will get Mays' message and stop.




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