October 22, 2017
Jessica Carter was in bed with her boyfriend, still high on methamphetamines and painkillers, when members of a Williamson County drug task force busted down the door with guns drawn.
Carter, her boyfriend and boyfriend’s brother were each charged with the same 11 drug-related felony offenses.
Ten months later, the two men were out of jail working on meeting the terms of their probation.
Carter, 25, was still behind bars.
One unexpected effect of Tennessee’s opioid epidemic is that women going through Tennessee’s drug courts spend more time in jail than men arrested for the same crimes.
Taxpayers foot the bill for those longer jail stays.
In some cases, women spend six or more months longer in jail than men, waiting for a spot in minimum security residential treatment facilities where addicts convicted of non-violent felonies are often sent by drug court judges as a condition of probation.
The inequity in jail stays is a result of an opioid crisis that is ensnaring far more women than drug court judges have seen in the past.
“The demographics have just flipped on me,” said Judge Seth Norman, presiding judge of Davidson County Drug Court. “Five years ago we were never full on the female side. Now the waiting list for women is at least six months. If I opened a 100-bed facility for women tomorrow morning, it would be filled by tomorrow night.”
Norman and other drug court judges across the state have been trying for two years to get funding from the legislature to open other facilities.
So far, they haven’t succeeded.
That’s left women idling in jail like Carter, who started smoking marijuana then doing heroin and pain pills at a young age after her father was convicted of molesting her.
“I feel a little forgotten,” Carter said in an interview with the USA Today Network – Tennessee.
“Jail is just wasted time. And the longer I am here, the longer it’s going to take me to finally finish probation and finish the program and get back to trying to live a productive life.”
Read the full story on The Tennessean.
Anita Wadhwani is an investigative reporter at The Tennessean. She joined the newspaper in 2001. Her previous beats have included diversity, religion, healthcare and social issues. Her investigative work has been honored by The Associated Press Media Editors’ First Amendment Award, The Tennessee Press Association’s Malcom Law Memorial Award for investigative reporting, The Green Eyeshade Award for excellence in journalism and the South Asian Journalists Association award for best multimedia story.