Winning the War on Meth at Any Cost?

By: Courtney Hayes
By: Courtney Hayes

More than 80 accused meth dealers were put behind bars or given probation last year, but what is it costing you, the taxpayer, to get them there?

A special taskforce has been formed to root out meth dealers and get them off Bay County's streets. As a taxpayer you will be happy to hear getting these accused meth dealers behind bars isn't costing you a dime, it's keeping them there that's breaking the bank.

“These guys are spending hours and hours of overtime. So, what we've done is utilized seizure funds in order to pay overtime. We're taking money from the drug dealers to pay for it," says Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen.

But while the MAD Unit operates on drug money alone, the county is paying big bucks to take accused meth dealers to court.

"You may have seven or eight co-defendants. Each one requiring a conflict attorney, a separate attorney and they're users," says Public Defender, Georgette Beller.

Beller says a public defender only cost the state about $200 per defendant, but in most of the meth lab busts the county has to assign those arrested to private defense attorneys because each defendant has their own interest at hand. That can cost the county $2,500 per defendant.

And the buck doesn’t stop there.

"When you're looking at a prison bed costing $18,000 a year, we certainly try treatment as a first option," says Prosecutor Steve Meadows.

Probation is a cheaper alternative to incarceration, because the defendant usually has to pay for their own supervision and treatment, which can cost up to $2,500.

Another cheaper alternative to prison time at the state level is handing the case over to the feds.

"There are several reasons to go federal. It saves time, which save money. And the sentencing is much more severe to go federal," says Sheriff McKeithen.

In 2003, 14 meth traffickers were charged at the federal level. And Sheriff McKeithen says many of this year's meth trafficking cases are going to the feds.


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