Drug courts: a win-win situation
Drug courts focus on potential before punishment, and they work because they are tough and rehabilitative at the same time.
Under the watchful eye of a judge, non-violent, first-time drug offenders are given a chance to get their lives back on track before being railroaded into jail.
Offenders, who average 16 months in the drug court program, are required to hold down a job, support their families, attend counseling, undergo drug testing and, in some cases, pay back the cost of the rehabilitation program.
All the while, offenders are closely watched by a parole officer or other court-appointed monitor, always with the threat of jail time hanging over their heads, if they willfully violate the terms of the program.
The reward for completing a drug court program is getting the original charges dropped and, presumably, becoming a productive citizen.
Offenders who successfully complete a drug court program are also three times less likely to get into drug trouble again. The recidivism rate for offenders who complete a drug court program is about 20 percent compared to about 70 percent for drug offenders who do not go through a drug court program.
Correctional spending is usually one of the fastest rising costs in state budgets. In Indiana, the cost of housing an inmate for a year is more than $22,000, while the average cost of a person going through a drug court program is about $2,200 — or one-tenth the cost of incarceration.
The drug court concept is catching on. Twelve drug courts are now operating in the state and another eight are in the planning stages.
Last year in Indiana, 866 people were served by the drug courts at an estimated cost of about $173,000 to the state. If these same people had been incarcerated for a year, it would have cost close to $1.7 million.
Drug court programs can be phased in gradually and without great start-up costs to the community. In some instances, drug courts can be started without having to create a new court or add personnel.
All it might take is a judge with criminal jurisdiction who is willing to make the effort to rehabilitate instead of incarcerate some of the offenders who come before the court. Drug court could be made a part of the judge’s regular monthly docket.
Overall, the benefits of drug courts far outweigh the costs. The state saves money, and some people who could have been lost to drug addiction are saved. Seems to be a win-win situation.
Senate Bill 343 before the state legislature now lays down guidelines to be used by counties that wish to enact a specialized drug court. This bill, which passed the Senate and the House without a dissenting vote and only a few amendments, is expected to be passed this week.
While Harrison County does not have a drug court now, a drug and alcohol program overseen by Harrison Superior Court does many of the same types of things a drug court program does, with regard to monitoring and rehabilitation.
The consensus among professionals working in the judicial system here seems to be that a drug court would be a benefit, but concerns were raised about having the resources of manpower, court time, building space and money to enact such a specialized court at this time. Presently, three parole officers oversee 1,600 cases in Harrison County, many of them drug related.
As Harrison County continues to grow and as we look to the future, a third court, in addition to the Superior and Circuit courts, will most likely be needed. It might be that a drug court would fit the bill.