Will Drug Courts Continue in Down Economy?

E-newsletter Issue #55 | September 15, 2010

Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Daniel T. Eismann can attest to the success of the drug courts in his state. As a former drug court judge, he knows full well why the legislature continues to support the problem-solving courts even in tough fiscal times.

“These lives are being changed for the better,” he said Sunday at The Council of State Governments-WEST annual meeting. “We even took homeless people into our drug court who didn’t have a home and they would graduate with a job, a place to live and usually with a car.”

Idaho’s drug courts serve as a national model, according to David Adkins, executive director and CEO of CSG.

Drug courts integrate substance abuse treatment in justice processing, Eismann said. That means they are not quick-hit programs of only a few months or less. The intensive 16- to 17-week drug court program in Idaho follows up on participants in their daily lives.

“Meth addicts, those who are severely addicted, they wouldn’t even remember their first four to six months of treatment,” Eismann said. So, a longer program was essential.

But long programs like this, no matter how successful, still cost money.

“We try not to start something that we can’t sustain,” said Idaho Rep. Maxine Bell, chair of the Appropriations Committee in her state. “What a blessing this was, when something came forth that actually treated these people … and treatment is more expensive.”

Bell said although the legislature supports the drug courts, money is tight and some other budget items take a hit.

“At the end of the day, the arithmetic wins. It wins, no matter what you want to do,” Bell said. It’s not easy to prioritize a budget because there are a lot of good things competing for state money, she said.

“We will do everything we can not to stop doing the right thing, but it is way more difficult than incarceration,” Bell said of the drug courts.

Idaho Department of Corrections Director Brent Reinke said the drug courts not only benefit the participants, but also their children. Because of drug courts, more than 250 drug-free babies have been born statewide, he said.

Not only that, drug courts cut down on the amount of people who leave jail and are eventually sent back for a new crime, he said, called recidivism.

“We have far too many people that do too much time because we don’t have the resources to wrap them tight in the community,” he said. “Our new goals are to keep them out. It isn’t about hookin’ and bookin.’ It’s about building on the strengths to keep these individuals out.”

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