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.

  • ROC testifies in Louisiana

    Posted in Louisiana, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, Substance Abuse: April 24, 2014 by Right on Crime

    Right on Crime signatory Jerry Madden testified before a Louisiana Senate Committee on a bill that aims to lessen sentences for non-violent drug offenders. “It saves money, saves lives and reverses the trend.” Click here to read more.

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  • Louisiana looks to Texas to get right on crime

    Posted in Adult Probation, Georgia, Louisiana, Parole and Re-Entry, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, Substance Abuse, Texas: April 18, 2014 by Right on Crime

    “The Pelican Institute points out that Louisiana is out of step, even with conservative states like Texas and Georgia, which have moved away from prison terms for nonviolent offenders to emphasize rehabilitation. Click here to read more.

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  • Mississippi HB 585: Recommendations of the Corrections and Criminal Justice Task Force

    Posted in Adult Probation, Law Enforcement, Mississippi, Prisons, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, Substance Abuse: April 8, 2014 by Right on Crime

    Why does Mississippi need HB585? Mississippi’s prison population has grown by 17 percent in the last decade, topping 22,600 inmates last year. The state now has the second-highest imprisonment rate in the country, trailing only Louisiana. Without action, these trends will continue and Mississippi prisons will need to house 1,990 more inmates by 2024 – [...]

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  • ROC signatories applauded for being leaders of criminal justice reform movement

    Posted in Prisons, ROC Blog, Substance Abuse: April 3, 2014 by Right on Crime

    It’s no secret that conservatives are paving the way for our country to implement effective criminal justice policies, and this article from The Fix commends ROC signatories such as Newt Gingrich, Grover Norquist and Craig DeRoche for helping the nation to get right on crime.

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  • New poll shows that American support for drug treatment vs. incarceration is on the rise

    Posted in Adult Probation, Audio, Parole and Re-Entry, ROC Blog, Substance Abuse: April 3, 2014 by Right on Crime

    A survey by Pew Research Center shows that the public is skeptical of sending non-violent drug offenders to prison — and finds that the majority prefer offenders be treated by way of rehabilitative programs. Marc Levin sits down with NPR News to discuss the issue. [Audio clip: view full post to listen] Click here to [...]

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  • Right on Crime congratulates Governor Rick Perry

    Posted in Events, Parole and Re-Entry, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, Substance Abuse, Texas: April 2, 2014 by Right on Crime

    Right on Crime congratulates Governor Rick Perry Perry receives Governor of the Year Award for his support of drug-court programs Austin, TX — Governor Rick Perry was today presented the National Association of Drug Court Professionals’ Governor of the Year Award. This year marks the 25th anniversary of drug courts — treatment programs that help rehabilitate non-violent drug [...]

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  • Marc Levin on “To the Point” with Warren Olney

    Posted in Audio, Parole and Re-Entry, Prisons, ROC Blog, Substance Abuse: March 18, 2014 by Right on Crime

    “What we’ve found is that sending people to prison who have a drug addiction, for example, they often only stay for a year or two… and of course when they get out, any positive ties they had to church or their family, those have been severed and…they come out worse than when they came in.” [Audio [...]

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  • Marc Levin’s research cited in TX Tribune’s ‘TribCast’

    Posted in Adult Probation, Audio, Law Enforcement, Parole and Re-Entry, Prisons, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, Substance Abuse, Texas: January 30, 2014 by Right on Crime

    During this week’s edition of The Texas Tribune‘s political podcast ‘TribCast,’ ROC policy director Marc Levin’s research regarding cost of incarceration vs. rehabilitation is discussed as the contributors talk about Governor Perry’s marijuana decriminalization remarks. Click here to listen to the podcast.

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  • Washington Post: “Texas leads the way in needed criminal justice reforms”

    Posted in Adult Probation, Law Enforcement, Parole and Re-Entry, Prisons, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, Substance Abuse, Texas: January 29, 2014 by Right on Crime

    In the Lone Star State, the effort [to reform the criminal justice system] has conservative roots. Budget-minded state leaders crafted an alternative to perpetually feeding money into prison construction to warehouse non-violent offenders, rather than investing in drug treatment or better parole programs. Click here for the full story from Washington Post.

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  • ROC discusses decriminalization of marijuana with “The Chad Hasty Show”

    Posted in Audio, Law Enforcement, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, Substance Abuse, Texas: January 28, 2014 by Right on Crime

    Senior Policy Analyst Vikrant Reddy sits down with KFYO’s “The Chad Hasty Show” to talk about Gov. Rick Perry’s remarks regarding the decriminalization of marijuana in Texas. Click here to listen to the interview.

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