Pubdate: Thu, 09 Jun 2005
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times (NC)
Copyright: 2005 Asheville Citizen-Times
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


In pondering the future of Buncombe County's Drug Treatment Court it's
best to start with one question: Would you rather pay $3,500 a year or
$25,000 a year?

The answer, sadly, appears to be the high number.

That's because there's apparently no future to ponder regarding the
drug court. It's running out of funds, with no relief in sight.

The court has been operating for five years. It works with nonviolent
drug offenders, requiring them to overcome their addictions and become
productive members of society. Some enter the program after entering a
guilty plea to an offense with the caveat that if they don't complete
the requirements, their original sentence will be carried out. Some 39
people have completed the program in the last five years. Five have
since been arrested, meaning the program has a recidivism rate of 15
percent. Nationwide, the prison system recidivism rate is nearly 70

The Drug Court is effective, and certainly appears to be
cost-effective. But plans are to cut funding for drug courts across
the state by $1 million, meaning the court in Buncombe will probably
close in a couple of months.

Drug Court Judge Ronald Payne said, "I'm not optimistic for the simple
reason that the General Assembly is facing difficult decisions. But at
the same time, they need to evaluate the efficiency of Drug Courts and
how little it costs to operate them compared a prison."

State Rep. Bruce Goforth, D-Buncombe, said, "I think it's a great
program and I hope we find some funding for it."

We hope so, too. This spending cut looks like one of those pennywise,
pound-foolish moves. We're not talking about keeping dangerous people
out of jail here, we're talking about taking a chance on a person with
a problem, a chance that could help them go from being someone who is
a drag on society to someone who is a contributor. Certainly, if
there's a chance that $3,500 could keep someone from costing the
taxpayers $25,000 a year by being in a prison bed, we ought to take
it. There are larger benefits here with successful drug courts, in
that not only is the person not in prison, they're out working a job
and paying taxes.

Kyle Moody, Drug Treatment Court administrator, said, "What more does
Raleigh need to know? The program works and it's cost-effective. There
is nothing else we can say."

Certainly, there's one sure-fire way for people to stay out of prison,
and that is the simple expedient of not committing a crime. However,
making new laws that create new or harsher penalties has been a
popular political strategy for several decades now, and as a result
more nonviolent offenses can lead to prison time, and as a result of
that prisons are a growth industry in this country. The prison
population is growing by 900 inmates a week, and on a national scale
we're paying more to house prisoners than we spend on education. As of
2004 about one of every 138 people in the country were in prison.

If there's a chance we can keep someone out who doesn't necessarily
need to be there, by all means we should take that chance.
Unfortunately, we look like we're on the road to forsaking those
chances in North Carolina in a move that will save money in the short
term but almost certainly cost more in the long term.
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