Last month, attendees at the National Association of Drug Court Professionals 19th Annual Training Conference left the convention hall for a day and headed to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers and their staff. Their goal: to give legislators a better understanding of the drug court model and how these courts are making a difference across the country.
Since their creation two decades ago, drug courts have proven their power to change individual lives. As noted in “NADCP Training Conference Offers Education and Inspiration,” a recent Sobering Up post, several drug court graduates spoke about their dramatic transformation at the NADCP conference. Click here to see their stories.
Drug courts also improve communities as a whole and many officials have come to recognize their value. For example, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin recently penned an op-ed citing the state’s drug courts as a successful way to reduce prison overcrowding. NADCP notes that 75% of drug court graduates remain arrest-free at least two years after leaving the program and that drug courts produce cost savings ranging from $3,000 to $13,000 per client. These cost savings reflect reductions in prison expenses, revolving-door arrests, trials, and victimization.
But as the economic downturn continues, some states are struggling to fund their specialty courts. At the end of June mental health and drug courts in Iowa closed after a federal grant expired. Courts in Mississippi have also faced drastic cuts, resulting in the admission of fewer participants in a number of courts and the closure of a juvenile drug court. In an effort to stay open, some courts are looking to county legislators to make up for lost state funding.
During their time on Capitol Hill, NADCP conference attendees stressed that drug courts save lives and money, and urged lawmakers to invest in the drug court model. Julie Seymore is the administrator for the St. Charles County Drug Court in Missouri as well as the President-Elect of the Missouri Association of Drug Court Professionals. During Capitol Hill Day she met with staffers for Missouri’s senators, Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt.
Speaking from her first-hand experience working with offenders, Julie said, “I see drug court as a way to save people, to change their behavior and address their addiction without incarceration. Drug courts keep families together and give offenders support in real-life situations to deal with their addictions on life’s terms. Without these programs, offenders will be incarcerated or placed on traditional probation, with less of a likelihood of addressing their substance issues and a greater chance for reoffending. Without drug court there becomes a revolving door of people in the criminal justice system who will continue in their criminal behaviors to support their addiction.”
Julie noted that Senator McCaskill and Senator Blunt have both been very supportive of drug courts in the state and during the meetings, their staff members were excited about the impact specialty courts are making. And for good reason: St. Charles County Drug Court expects to celebrate its 1,000th graduate later this month.
But it takes the support of many lawmakers to ensure the important work of specialty courts continues. You can encourage your representative and senators to fund drug courts by clicking here to send them a letter.