June 4th, 2008
Treatment, rather than imprisonment, would save the American taxpayers billions.
June 3, 2008
Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a former U.S. drug czar, and actress Melanie Griffith joined experts in calling on lawmakers to increase funding for such courts.
“This is not a war on drugs,” McCaffrey said. “This is a problem for our families in America. In order to turn drugs around in this country, we’re going to have to treat those 1.5 million people who are addicted.”
Griffith, a recovering alcohol and drug addict, said she believes drug courts are effective because they provide both support and accountability for abusers.
“I had a long struggle with addiction because I didn’t have that. And by the grace of God, I didn’t end up in prison,” Griffith said. “There are so many people, who with this kind of help, can lead beautiful lives.”
The study from the Urban Institute in Washington found that about 3 percent of arrested addicts are referred to a drug court, which offers supervised treatment to nonviolent offenders whose records are expunged if they complete the program.
“Most addicts need something more than being warehoused,” said Judge Charles Simmons Jr., a drug court judge in Greenville, S.C. “Drug courts are putting families back together, and they are decreasing crime at a tremendous savings to taxpayers.”
Housing an inmate in prison can cost up to $40,000 a year while drug court treatment costs up to $3,500 per offender a year, Simmons said.
McCaffrey said 15 years of research has yielded definitive proof that drug courts significantly reduce crime by as much as 35 percent. He said legislators and the public may get behind the system once they understand its cost savings.
“The math in unarguable,” McCaffrey said. “If you want to unclog America’s prisons, drug courts need to be taken to scale.”
Many prosecutors, judges, social workers, health providers and attorneys who participate in the 2,100 drug courts nationwide attended the three-day conference at America’s Center that ended Friday.
Missouri has 110 drug court programs serving more than 3,400 participants. Since their inception, more than 6,200 people have graduated from a drug court in Missouri with a 10 percent recidivism rate.
Illinois has 19 drug courts in operation, including one in Madison County, with more in the developmental stages.