Editorial: The drug business and the courts

There is not the data one would need to conclude that the drug problem here is more severe today than it has historically been. For sure, people in law enforcement and those who work closely with young people will tell you that drugs are common and widely used and that drug business and drug use are linked to criminality of a variety of sorts. Thievery, violence, abuse are associated with drugs, and the social cost is significant.

In many places, civic life is lived atop an underground drug culture, which is accepted as a cost of daily existence. It may be suppressed, the thinking goes, but not extinguished. The civic costs in human and financial terms must be assumed and paid. Apart from politicians, who would say that the drug problem is susceptible to defeat? Certainly not the police. But, with the court’s help, chances for improvement are better here than elsewhere. Yet, right now, the courts are not doing their share.

Certainly not when we read, as you will this morning, that a young drug offender, previously convicted but sentenced to probation, has re-offended. It’s a story this morning, but it’s a familiar story. A woman, in this case, pled guilty in February to possession of heroin and conspiracy to violate drug laws. She got a nine-month suspended sentence on each conviction, along with two years of probation. Those charges stem from a November 2008 raid in Tisbury.

As inconclusive as the data is concerning the dimensions of the drug problem here, the evidence that a drug dealer here will straighten out after a conviction, course-correct while on probation, and walk the straight and narrow from now on is hopelessly unpersuasive. Add to this distressing fact the clear evidence that Islanders are importing drugs and drug dealers from communities elsewhere, and the smartest conclusion to draw is that leniency and hopefulness are not what we want from the courts. In this small, inconvenient community, when there is the chance to exercise greater control over the drug problem than seems possible elsewhere, and when law enforcement has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to catch and prosecute drug offenders, what’s wanted from the courts is not probation, hopefulness, and recidivism.

John T. Hough, R.I.P.

Jack Hough was a rock solid newspaperman. He formed a clear and unshakeable conception of what a newspaper ought to do for a small community, and that conception characterized his family’s durable, sensible, plainspoken Falmouth Enterprise throughout his long years as reporter, editor, and publisher there.

A Marine — he served in the Pacific Theater in World War II — Mr. Hough, nephew of Henry Beetle Hough, the late, more literary Vineyard Gazette editor, had a cheerful, gruff, straightforward way. Younger, less accomplished small-newspaper editors, encountering him at the gas station, the market, the ferry, or on the telephone after his retirement to his North Tisbury house, recognized in him a stern, inspiring, and encouraging critic. If you were in the business and he was familiar with your work, Jack Hough knew what you were up to.

Mr. Hough’s son, the novelist John T. Hough Jr. of West Tisbury, writing his father’s obituary, which we publish this morning, recalls his father’s simple description of the newspaper’s job. It was, Jack Hough said, “telling the truth as plainly as possible.” The formula hasn’t a very 21st century flavor, but happily, although fashions in journalism — or information technology as it seems to be called these days — bloom and fade, it was right when he said it, and it endures.