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June 3, 2010

Notable comments on potential cost savings from AG Eric Holder at drug court conference

The DOJ website has posted here remarks delivered today by Attorney General Eric Holder at the annual conference of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. The whole speech is worth reading for criminal justice fans, and these snippets seemed especially sentencing blog-worthy:

Together, the people in this room have launched, led and sustained a national — and now international — movement.  It’s been just 21 years since the first Drug Court was launched in Miami.  Today, there are more that 2,400 Drug Courts, operating in every U.S. state and in 15 countries. Drug Courts now serve more than 120,000 people a year.  And, to date, over 1 million people have graduated from America’s Drug Courts....

Today, more than 60 percent of people arrested in this country are regular drug users.  About half of those incarcerated are drug dependent.  Yet less than 10 percent of those in need of treatment while incarcerated actually receive it.  This must change.

Now, few would dispute that public safety requires incarceration, and that imprisonment is, at least partially, responsible for the dramatic drop in crime rates nationwide in recent decades.  But, as you all know, incarceration is only part of the answer.  It is not the whole answer.  Imprisonment, with its high economic and social costs, is not a complete strategy for criminal law enforcement, especially when you consider the fact that, currently, one out of every 100 adults in America is incarcerated.

We must focus not only on getting people who commit crimes into prison but also consider what happens to people after they leave prison and reenter society.  And we must recognize that every person with a drug dependency who leaves incarceration without treatment represents an opportunity lost, as well as a continued risk to society....

[W]e have seen that Drug Courts, specifically, reduce crime more than any other sentencing option. The most rigorous and conservative scientific “meta-analyses” have all concluded that drug courts significantly reduce crime as much as 35 percent more than other sentencing options.  And, nationwide, 75 percent of Drug Court graduates remain arrest-free two years after leaving the program.

The long-term effects are just as promising. After the National Institute of Justice completed an evaluation of 6,500 Drug Court participants in Multnomah County, Oregon, over the course of 10 years, we found lower re-arrest rates and reductions in recidivism ranging from 17 to 26 percent.  We also found public savings of almost $1,400 per participant when compared to traditional case processing.  When costs associated with reduced recidivism and other long-term outcomes were factored in, those savings rose to almost $7,000 per participant.

Recently, NIJ completed a five-year evaluation of 23 drug court sites that measured Drug Court practices and their influence on relapse and recidivism.  We’re still consolidating the findings, but preliminary results show that participants reported less drug-related and criminal activity both 6 and 18 months after their admission, and they spent fewer days behind bars as a result.  Interestingly, Drug Courts were particularly effective in preventing relapses among those who had long histories of drug use.  And one other finding I’d like to emphasize — and one that I can appreciate as a former judge — is that outcomes were better for participants who perceived the judge and the program as fair and impartial and the judge as willing to impose serious consequences on those who dropped out.

By promoting sobriety, recovery, and personal accountability, Drug Courts help to break the cycle of drug use, crime, imprisonment, and release without rehabilitation.  Of course, these programs give no one a free pass.  They are strict and can be extraordinarily difficult to get through.  But for those who succeed, as the Drug Courts graduates who are with us today prove, there is the real prospect of a productive future.

Yet, despite clear economic incentives and high levels of growth and success, today, Drug Courts only serve about one half of non-violent, drug-addicted arrestees who are already eligible for these programs.  If Drug Courts were expanded so that they could treat all currently eligible individuals, this result would be more than $2 dollars in savings for every $1 dollar invested — a total of more than $1 billion dollars a year.  And if Drug Courts were expanded so they could treat all arrestees who are at-risk for drug or alcohol abuse or dependence, it is estimated that we would save more than $30 billion a year, and avert millions of crimes.

June 3, 2010 at 06:24 PM | Permalink

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Comments

If it is true, as the Attorney General says, that "Drug Courts, specifically, reduce crime more than any other sentencing option," why are there no drug courts in the federal system? The answer to this question, according to a 2006 DOJ study, is that most people prosecuted for federal drug crimes are violent traffickers who would not be suitable candidates for drug court. The evidence relied upon to support this conclusion consists almost exclusively of data on sentence length.

Posted by: margy | Jun 3, 2010 11:37:29 PM

Over the last few years, drug courts and other specialized courts have been initiated in the federal system. These courts are labor intensive and therefore self-limiting. Holder laments that Drug Courts serve only one-half the non-violent, drug-addicted defendants "who are eligible". This is misleading.

Eligibility is determined by the individual court not by AG Holder. Offenders whose current offense involved violence are barred from most programs but there are many permutations to consider. What if the offense of conviction was non-violent but a plea bargain dismissed more serious charges? What about violence in the prior criminal history. Since these programs are rigorous, many who do not desire to "go straight" often decline the opportunity.

My problem with Holder is that he would have the public believe that there is this huge contingent of forlorn offenders who are never given an opportunity at drug treatment. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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Posted by: christian louboutin | Dec 13, 2010 1:42:11 AM

My problem with Holder is that he would have the public believe that there is this huge contingent of forlorn offenders who are never given an opportunity at drug treatment. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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