Strawberry needs drug rehab, not prison time
By DeWayne Wickham, Gannett News Service

  WASHINGTON — While the Florida judge who must decide Darryl Strawberry's fate may be tempted to give the former star baseball player the punishment Strawberry told the court he deserves, that would be a mistake.
  Strawberry was hauled back into a Tampa courtroom last week to face charges that he violated the terms of his probation for a 1999 drug possession and prostitution solicitation conviction for the sixth time. So far, the court has given the one-time Yankees outfielder as many second chances as owner George Steinbrenner gave Billy Martin, whom he hired five times to manage the Bronx Bombers.
  If Strawberry gets his way, he will be sent to prison to serve the 18-month sentence that was held in abeyance when a judge ordered him into a drug treatment program. But in the three years since then, Strawberry has stumbled badly. Last month, he was kicked out of a treatment center after allegedly not taking his medicine, smoking cigarettes and having sex with a female patient. During his court appearance last week, Strawberry told the judge he wants to be imprisoned.
  "It's just time for me to move forward. It's time for me to accept my sentence, my 18 months, and move on with my life," he reportedly said.
  The judge is expected to hand down a ruling later this month. Given the call from prosecutors for Strawberry to do time and the public clamoring for the court to get tough on him, there's a good chance the judge will order him to prison. If that happens, you can write off Darryl Strawberry.
  Let's face it: The man is a drug addict who is struggling badly to break the psychological hold that long-term cocaine use has him in. While he claims to have been drug-free since entering the treatment program nearly a year ago, Strawberry obviously has been haunted by the demons drug use conjures up. The internal struggle this confrontation produces is one of the hurdles that recovering drug addicts must leap.
  As hard as it is to win this struggle in a drug treatment center, it is almost impossible to do it in prison, where drug use is rampant and successful drug counseling programs are rare. Eighteen months behind bars might end any chance Strawberry has of shaking his drug addiction and the self-destructive behavior it spawns.
  Strawberry is a sick man, not a violent criminal. He is the biggest victim of the crimes he has committed. It cost him a multimillion-dollar baseball career and caused great anguish for his family. Sure, he should not go unpunished, but the punishment should fit the crime.
  What Strawberry needs is a more demanding drug treatment program, not a stint in the drug bazaar that prisons have become. If that place doesn't exist, the judge should encourage someone in the public or private sector to create it — not just for Strawberry but for the many nonviolent drug abusers like him.
  Strawberry's lawyer says his client is winning his fight with drug addiction. But his plea for jail time sounds like a cry of surrender. As long as he is on probation, the court can compel Strawberry to attend whatever drug treatment program it chooses for him.   Once he serves his sentence, the court will have no control over Strawberry's rehabilitation until the next time he's convicted of a drug offense.
  A stint in prison will increase the chance that Strawberry will suffer a full relapse and that he might slip deeper into the murky world of crime when he gets out.
  Hopefully, the judge who'll decide this case will be influenced by this challenging reality and not the mounting pressure from prosecutors and others to treat Darryl Strawberry like a common criminal instead of as a sick man.

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