- Associated Press - Saturday, April 18, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A majority of Tennessee prosecutors asked about a new law that has drawn criticism for allowing assault charges against mothers of drug-addicted newborns say it is having a positive effect.

According to a statewide survey done by the Tennessee Department of Safety, more than half of state prosecutors said they were seeing positive results. The agency released results last week showing that 17 prosecutors thought the threat of jail was deterring more drug-dependent births, while seven thought it wasn’t helping and six didn’t respond, The Tennessean (https://tnne.ws/1E2Lpuu) reported.

Meanwhile, data shows the number of drug-addicted babies born in Tennessee is still on the increase.

In a letter that accompanied the survey, Department of Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons said criminal charges were “used sparingly and selectively” in the six months the law was in effect last year.

Monroe County District Attorney Steven Crump says he thinks the law is necessary, but he doesn’t use it often.

“We’ve tried to be very sparing in the use of the statute,” he said. “We’ve tried to stay away from cases where there was a significant question in our minds as to whether or not there was the (drug dependence), or where we didn’t feel like we were going to accomplish anything by charging the mother in that set of circumstances.”

Since the law went into effect, Crump’s office has charged three women, who were all given diversion instead of jail time.

American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg opposes the law. She says it doesn’t entice women to get treatment; it drives them underground.

“Drug use is bad and pregnant women using drugs is not good. But the idea of punishing women rather than providing access to comprehensive substance abuse programs where women can also stay with their families . is wrong,” Weinberg said.

The Safety Department says it plans to survey prosecutors again at the end of the year.

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Information from: The Tennessean, https://www.tennessean.com

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