Meth Lab Mayhem

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We see them on the news almost every week---meth-amphetamine labs. But what happens to many of the people who are busted for meth? More precisely, it’s what’s “not” happening to them that’s so surprising. In this KKTV 11 News investigation, we take a look at why the majority of them are back out on the streets.

It’s certainly not something to be proud of, but Colorado Springs leads the state for meth labs. Over the past two years, police have taken down more than 300 of these labs and arrested nearly 400-people. Today, only 46 of those people are in prison. That's just 13-percent.

So Colorado Springs police are growing more and more concerned, especially when they keep arresting the same people. Another sobering statistic: 30%, or more than 100 of those arrested, are repeat offenders.

Terry Curry is with the Colorado Springs Police Department’s VNI unit. "We're a haven for meth lab cooks because they know first second and third time, they cook meth and they could get probation."

In fact, 45% are given probation, intensive supervision, community corrections duty or had suspended or dismissed sentences. Many states send first-time meth cooks directly to prison, but not Colorado. Twelve percent of the suspects were never charged for meth-related crimes. Some attorneys say that’s because of a lack of evidence. In other cases, it’s because they pleaded guilty to other crimes.

District Attorney Jeanne Smith says, while these numbers may look suprising, she believes treatment programs can be just as effective as prison. She also says, to send every meth cook to prison, would be virtually impossible. "What we're trying to do is focus on the ones that are more major producers. Get the courts and the community to understand why we are going to have to spend money to get those people into prison."

But the treatment philosophy is what police are concerned about. They say the people making the drugs should be held more accountable than those who use them. "I think it's important to make them aware, if they see the photographs, if they see the meth lab through my eyes, I think they would have a different approach at this," says Curry.

Police have already been working with the district attorney's office to try and implement change. Officers also offer meth lab awareness training and are hoping judges also come on board. "We would love to give one to the judges. So far, that request has never been made of us," says Curry.

But sending every meth criminal to jail is probably unrealistic. "If they were to say every meth lab defendant goes to prison, the fiscal note on that for the prisons would be gigantic," says Smith.

Here's how much you're already paying: Police estimate they spend an average of $4,000 every time they bust a meth lab. With 309 labs in the past two years, that adds up to more than $1,000,000 in taxpayer money spent. And that doesn't include how much it costs once the criminals enter the legal system. "There's no doubt about it, you're going to have to build more prisons. But on the other hand, in my opinion, it's well worth the money spent to take these people off the street," says Curry.