Drug Courts Crucial to Criminal Justice Reform; Bipartisan Program Reduces Costs and Recidivism

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Byline: ByRep. Michael M. Honda and Martin Sheen, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

As our country's fiscal crisis forces budget cuts across the board, we are witnessing a renewed inter- est in criminal justice reform and taking a closer look at the $70 billion spent annually on America's correctional system. State and national leaders are calling for immediate spending reductions and an end to America's costly overreliance on incarceration. Calls for reform intensified recently with the Supreme Court's ruling on the removal of thousands of inmates from California prisons and with this month's 40th anniversary of the War on Drugs.

While there are no quick fixes, there are proven programs that we must expand during this reform effort. One highly successful program is the drug courts - a solution that saves money, cuts crime and serves veterans in need. Here are four reasons why these courts must be at the center of any criminal justice reform process.

First, and most importantly, drug courts are the nation's most effective strategy in reducing recidivism - especially among drug-addicted, nonviolent offenders with long criminal histories. By closely supervising participants and keeping them in treatment long enough to transform into productive members of their community, drug courts significantly reduce the use of jails and prisons, improve employment and family functioning, and save money by reducing crime, health care utilization and victim compensation. The courts, furthermore, reunite broken families, intervene with juveniles on the brink of a debilitating life of addiction and crime, and stop repeat drunk drivers.

Second, the data backing up the drug courts is no longer up for debate. The rapid growth of drug courts in the past two decades has inspired researchers to pay attention. More research has been published on the effects of the courts than on virtually all other criminal justice programs combined. The facts are now known: Drug courts reduce crime by up to 50 percent and have been found to save up to $13,000 for every individual they serve. We also now know that 75 percent of those who complete drug court are never arrested again, an impressive track record for the courts.

Third, drug courts stepped up to serve the growing number of veterans who face charges stemming from substance abuse to mental health issues. By connecting our veterans to the benefits and treatment they earned through military service, drug courts and veterans treatment courts ensure that veterans do not fall through the cracks when they become involved with our criminal justice system. …