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Drug courts show encouraging results

As legislators discussed proposals for far-reaching changes to lower the number of people who are incarcerated, the public got more information about one experiment that began in 2003.

The state now operates 20 drug courts serving adults in 30 counties. There are 16 drug courts serving juveniles in 20 counties.

The state Supreme Court has assembled some data on how well they work.

Short version: perhaps better than incarceration.

Chief Justice Brent Benjamin told a joint meeting of the House and Senate Judiciary committees that:

* Since 2003, about 52 percent of the 420 people who entered adult drug court programs have graduated. Only about 10 percent of drug court graduates return to jail, compared to about 30 percent of those in traditional incarceration programs.

* As for juvenile drug courts, 201 kids - 62 percent of those who entered - successfully finished between 2007 and 2012. The recidivism rate for juveniles is 14 percent for drug court graduates, compared to 52 percent rate for traditional incarceration.

The difference in costs is significant, the court said.

* Putting an adult in drug court costs taxpayers about $7,100 a year. Putting an adult in a regional jail costs more than $18,000 a year, and prison, about $24,000 a year.

* Putting a juvenile in drug court for a program that last many months costs about $6,400, but putting a juvenile sentenced to six months in a residential treatment facility can cost $44,000 to $99,000.

Additional feedback came later in the week from the Putnam County drug court, which has operated for two years and has 26 graduates.

Circuit Judge Phillip M. Stowers said not all who enter the demanding program finish.

"Twenty graduates will not change the world," he said. "But it will change the world for 20 kids and 20 families for generations.

"I believe what we are really changing is something we could never do in our regular court process," Stowers added. "We are changing families."

Many of the policy changes legislators are being asked to consider are far-reaching, and strike some people as efforts simply to define deviance down.

Data on how such approaches as early release with supervision have worked out in other states would make it easier for the public to evaluate what the cost  to public safety would be.



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