The issue: State's high court reduces recovery home founder's 30-year prison sentence
Our stance: Justice emerges in "exceptional" case
Just days before the new year donned in Indiana, the state's high court changed the course of a local woman's life, and with it, dozens of others.
Lisa Livingston founded the BreakAway — a 14-bed women's addiction recovery center in New Albany — in 2017, four years into her own sobriety. Then in March 2018, Livingston was sentenced for a 5-year-old criminal case in which she pleaded guilty to five felonies, including the dealing and possession of drugs and the ingredients to make them, as well as an additional charge for being a habitual offender.
Her sentence? Thirty years in state prison — seven more than the state's mandatory minimum. With good behavior, she could have served half that time.
When Orange County Circuit Court Judge Steve Owen passed down the sentence, he acknowledged the good work Livingston had done since that 2013 arrest. But, he added, every bag of drugs Livingston dealt represented to him the destruction of a family.
It was the Indiana Supreme Court's opinion, issued last month, that Owen did not err in his sentencing. In fact, the justices said, Owen "thoughtfully considered the mitigating and aggravating circumstances in reaching its sentencing decision."
But the high court found Livingston's case to be "exceptional," and with that finding they reduced her sentence to the minimum of 23 years, with all remaining time to be served on supervised probation through Floyd County Community Corrections.
This is more than justice. It is compassion. It is an acknowledgement of an imperfect system and the imperfect people it holds accountable. To be sure, Livingston committed crimes with real consequences, and on more than one occasion. Those choices should have consequences.
But all of her choices should have consequences, including the ones she has made since 2013, among them:
• choosing to get sober, eventually graduating from the Bliss House recovery home;
• starting a business, Lisa's Roofing and Construction LLC;
• staying sober;
• saving $10,000 to found the BreakAway in an effort to help save the lives of women with addiction disorders; and
• voluntarily pleading guilty to the 2013 charges, without any guarantee on sentencing.
Owen said he took those choices into account. Perhaps he felt bound by law, a sense of fair treatment and an obligation to his constituents. That's his job, and that's fair.
But if there were ever a case where the criminal justice system proved its ability to rehabilitate and reform, Livingston embodies it. And if we are to champion a system of rehabilitation over blind punishment, then we should find victory in the high court's decision.
Because not only has Livingston showed that she can choose sobriety, she has begun to right the wrongs of her past by helping countless others. It is true justice that she has chosen to devote her life to fighting an addiction epidemic plaguing so many communities, including her own.
We support the Indiana Supreme Court's decision, and we support Livingston. With her commitment to sobriety and to the BreakAway's mission, Southern Indiana is a stronger, better place.
— The News and Tribune editorial board members are Publisher Bill Hanson, Editor Susan Duncan, Assistant Editor Chris Morris, Assistant Editor Jason Thomas and Digital Editor Elizabeth DePompei.