Crime & Courts

Police: Alcohol often root of crimes

The night before a 13-year-old boy was shot to death at his home last month, a relative of two of the men charged with the killing said they had been drinking alcohol.

That doesn't surprise people who deal with either the abuses of alcohol or the criminal justice system.

Alcohol, they say, is one of the most prevalent contributors to violence.

"It soaks your conscience, so to speak," said Sedgwick County District Judge Joe Kisner, who presides over drug court, which also helps felons deal with alcohol abuse.

Nationwide, 40 percent of state prison inmates convicted of violent offenses were drinking alcohol at the time of their crimes, according to the National Partnership on Alcohol Misuse and Crime.

"The more violent the crime, the greater the likelihood that alcohol was involved," the organization reported on its website.

In Kansas, the Department of Corrections reported that 51 percent of inmates have a substance abuse disorder, which includes alcohol and other drug abuse.

"In a lot of crimes, we find alcohol is a big contributor," said Brenda Salvati, assistant director of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Regional Prevention Center at Mirror Inc.

"Even for kids not of legal age, alcohol is still easy to get," Salvati added.

Three of the four people charged in the June 20 shooting death of 13-year-old Miguel Angel Andrade Martinez were under the age of 21.

They had been drinking all night before the shooting, a relative said, becoming angrier over a fight that sent a brother of two of the men to jail.

They thought they'd seen a car related to the fight at the Andrade's house. Police say Miguel had nothing to do with the incident.

Preventing violence

Salvati said that her group sees the neighborhood's response to the killing of the teenager as a model for how neighborhoods and communities can prevent violence.

The Regional Prevention Center works with neighborhood associations and community treatment programs to educate residents about substance abuse and its consequences.

"I think the more information a neighborhood has, the more likely they are to be the voice of reason and look out for each other," Salvati said.

Salvati praised Andrade's neighbors near 25th and Jackson in helping police get information about the shooting. Their descriptions of the suspects resulted in quick arrests.

Alcohol-related crime

Prosecutors and judges say they see a stream of alcohol-related crimes and violence, in addition to DUI infractions.

"I always say if it wasn't for drugs and alcohol, I'd be unemployed," said Major Glenn Kurtz, who oversees jail operations for the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office.

"Not only do people commit crimes while taking drugs and alcohol, they commit crimes because of their addiction," Kurtz said. "If you look at burglaries and ask why are these people breaking into houses and stealing things, it's to get money to feed their addictions."

Kurtz said the jail doesn't keep numbers on inmates who have substance abuse issues.

But Jason Scheck, a social worker with Comcare and director of the county's Offender Assessment Program, said most of the people he deals with struggle with some mind-altering substance.

"There's a common misperception that mental illness is conducive to violent behavior," Scheck said. "But more often it's substance abuse that leads to violence."

Judge Kisner said many of the relapses he sees in drug court start with alcohol.

"Alcohol may not be their main problem, but they start thinking, 'I can go out and have a couple of drinks,' " Kisner said. "As they drink, the consequences of using crack or cocaine drains out of their heads."

That's why judges order no alcohol use as a condition for most defendants staying on probation and out of prison.

"But some people just have to go to prison before they can get better," said Sedgwick County District Judge Clark Owens. "They just need that time away.

"I've received a number of letters from people saying the best thing that happened for their substance abuse is going to prison."

Keeping use down

Judges also use ankle bracelets that can detect alcohol use through perspiration.

Kisner uses it in drug court. Owens orders it for people going on probation with a history of alcohol abuse. They say it can even detect the alcohol in cough syrup or some cold medicines that people have used to try to cheat.

"If they're going on probation, I have not had but a couple of violations on the ankle bracelets," Owens said. "Because they know if they drink alcohol, they're going to get caught."

Salvati, of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Regional Prevention Center, said the message they're trying to spread involves making sure youth don't abuse alcohol, lose control and do something they will pay for behind bars.

"Be involved with the youth of your neighborhood and know your neighbors," Salvati said. "Pay attention where they're going and what they're doing. Be good mentors. Talk to your children. These are all prevention practices."

It could keep them out of jail.

"The percentage of people in jail from some crime related to drugs or alcohol is probably very high," Comcare's Scheck said. "No pun intended."

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