Priority Issues: Substance Abuse
I. The Issue
In 2006, the United States arrested approximately 1.89 million people for drug-related offenses, up from 581,000 in 1980. Many of these offenders were incarcerated for non-violent crimes. They were not immediate threats to public safety, but it was in society’s best interest to ensure that they stopped abusing drugs. Taxpayers are entitled to ask whether incarceration is accomplishing that goal.
II. The Impact
Incarceration can cost anywhere from $16,000 per year per offender (the average in Texas) to $50,000 per year per offender (the average in California). Recidivism rates are high in American prisons, and there is little evidence that drug abusers who enter prison leave having conquered their addiction.
A national study found that 95 percent of cases resolved through victim-offender mediation result in a written agreement, 90 percent of which are completed within one year, far exceeding the average restitution collection rate of 20 to 30 percent. Furthermore, 79 percent of victims who participated in mediation were satisfied, compared with 57 percent in the traditional court system. Also, the 1,298 juveniles who participated in mediation were 32 percent less likely to re-offend.
In addition to mediation, a greater emphasis should be placed on victims’ input
throughout the criminal justice process. The voice of the victim should be more closely considered by judges and prosecutors at every stage.
III. The Conservative Solution
Drug courts are specialty courts with judges who impose supervision, drug testing, treatment, and sanctions upon defendants in lieu of incarceration. The reduced recidivism rates that result from the use of drug courts benefit public safety, but drug courts can also reduce the burden of incarceration on state budgets because they cost less—between $2,500 and $4,000 annually per offender. Conservatives favor voluntary drug courts because they provide options for those people who are sincerely committed to taking responsibility to reform their lives.
For example, the HOPE (Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement) program, started by a former federal prosecutor in Hawaii, conducts frequent drug tests backed-up by swift and certain sanctions for violations, usually a few days in jail. They have cut drug use by more than 70% and arrests for new crimes fell by more than 50%. Moreover, when offenders are participating in HOPE, they are taking up far fewer prison beds, and Hawaii can prioritize the space for violent offenders.
The HOPE program recognizes that a drug court should not be a free pass. Offenders in drug courts should remain under regular monitoring to ensure that they hold jobs, receive treatment, and pay restitution if they have been convicted of a property crime. As defendants complete the rigorous program of the drug court, they remain outside of prison, and therefore, they should be encouraged to hold a job and support their families. There are many benefits to this system. Families stay together more often. Children are provided for more often. Burdens on social services systems such as foster care are alleviated. In some cases, if offenders complete the drug court program to the satisfaction of the judge and the person is not a threat to public safety and was not involved in dealing drugs, the underlying offense can be removed from their record, and thus does not harm their future employment prospects.
There are nearly 2,000 drug courts nationally, and the evidence indicates that they work. The national recidivism rate of those who complete drug court programs is between 4 and 29 percent. The control group incarceration rate is 48 percent. Even those who enter drug courts but do not complete their programs appear to have lower recidivism rates. In the state of Texas, for example, where approximately 100 drug courts are operating, the re-arrest rate for those who begin but do not complete the drug court program is 40.5 percent, as compared to the 58.5 percent rate in the Texas control group.
In drug courts, America has found not only a solution to an important public policy problem, it has hit yet again upon an essential conservative truth – the power of personal responsibility and accountability. Drugs courts are not suitable for every convicted defendant, but neither is imprisonment.
An Act of Faith: Florida Can Save Money, Reduce Crime, Salvage Lives by the James Madison Institute
Breaking Addiction Without Breaking the Bank: Cost-Effective Strategies for Texas Lawmakers to Reduce Substance Abuse by the Texas Public Policy Foundation
Criminal Justice Policy in Delaware: Options for Controlling Costs and Protecting Public Safety by the Caesar Rodney Institute
Criminal Justice Policy in New Mexico: Keys to Controlling Costs and Protecting Public Safety by the Rio Grande Foundation
Drug Courts: The Right Prescription for Texas by the Texas Public Policy Foundation
How to Avert another Texas Prison Crowding Crisis by the Texas Public Policy Foundation
Smart on Crime: With Prison Costs on the Rise, Ohio Needs Better Policies for Protecting the Public by the Buckeye Institute
CQ article on conservative criminal justice reform
This Congressional Quarterly article is worth reading in full. Note the mention of Right on Crime and the various conservative lawmakers who are supporting our efforts. An End to the Jailhouse Blues? By John Gramlich, CQ Staff Congressional Democrats have argued for years that too many low-level drug offenders are locked away in federal prisons [...]:: Read More
Grover Norquist on Michael Medved radio show
Here is a partial transcript from a recent Michael Medved radio show, where he interviewed signatory Grover Norquist about our work on criminal justice reform. They discussed the conservative way forward for prison reform, and ensuring that taxpayers get the best deal from the system, all while reducing crime and recidivism. Medved: So are we [...]:: Read More
TPPF and Marc Levin in Texas Monthly
Check out this great article about Right on Crime principles and policies in Texas. It features Marc Levin and the Texas Public Policy Foundation for their work fighting crime and saving money at the same time. With orders from the LBB and political cover from TAB, the infantry in the trenches is a coalition force [...]:: Read More
KUT covers weak Texas drug court oversight
Texas lawmakers may shore up a little-known system of courts, called specialty courts. Voices on both the left and the right are saying that these courts are working — benefiting the state despite being underfunded, uncounted and, at the state level, unmanaged. Ana Yañez Correa would like to tell lawmakers how many people benefit from [...]:: Read More
Senator Rand Paul talks criminal justice at Howard University
Read the full text of Senator Rand Paul’s speech at Howard University today. He focused on how conservative values, including those that deal with criminal justice reform, can better people’s lives and limit government power. Here is an excerpt from the speech today. Our federal mandatory minimum sentences are simply heavy handed and arbitrary. They [...]:: Read More
West Virginia Senate Passes Criminal Justice Reform Bill
A few days ago, the West Virginia State Senate passed criminal justice reform bill SB371 by an overwhelming vote of 33-0. It’s unusual for any legislative body to pass a bill with zero “No” votes, but that’s exactly what happened on Thursday. The legislation, which would help West Virginia achieve the goals of ensuring public [...]:: Read More
Cutting Crime, Cutting Costs: Two Successful Examples
Right on Crime often focuses on prioritizing prison beds for dangerous, violent criminals, while finding more effective ways of reducing crime in low-risk offenders. One way to develop those more effective responses to crime is to tailor the criminal justice system response to the particular instances involved…:: Read More
Justice System Reinvestment Pays Additional Dividends
When criminal justice systems reduce prison populations and reinvest a portion of the savings in evidence-based methods of reducing crime, not only are taxpayer dollars saved, but more efficient and effective programs can be fiscally prioritized.:: Read More
Florida Could Limit Prison Growth by Turning to its Drug Courts
The first drug court in the United States was formed in Miami-Dade County in 1989. Since then, Florida has increased that number to 106 drug courts, with at least one in every judicial circuit. In 2011, drug courts in Florida saw about 10,000 participants.:: Read More
How Texas Holds Drug Offenders Accountable
Earlier this year, Governor Rick Perry signed an executive order reauthorizing the Texas Criminal Justice Advisory Council to advise the governor on the creation, staffing, operations and performance of state drug courts.:: Read More
View More from Substance Abuse »