Drug Courts Save: Lives, Families, Costs and Communities

This May, the Kansas City, Missouri Municipal Court Drug Court will join more than 2,900 drug courts nationwide in celebrating National Drug Court Month. Veterans treatment courts will be celebrated at this time, too. This year’s theme is “Drug Courts Save.” Whether it is saving lives, saving families, saving communities, saving veterans, or saving resources, therapeutic justice programs like drug courts and veterans treatment courts save.

This year, National Drug Court Month arrives amid renewed interest in criminal justice reform. National and state leaders are looking to see how best to reduce our costly reliance on incarceration and to address issues surrounding fines and fairness. Sentencing, financial and prison reform are a start, but if we are serious about reducing substance abuse, crime, and recidivism while saving money for taxpayers, then we must continue to expand drug courts and veterans treatment courts.

The premise is simple: rather than continue to allow individuals with long histories of drug abuse and crime to cycle through the criminal justice system at great expense to the public, use the leverage of the court to keep them engaged in treatment long enough to be successful.

Kansas City’s drug court program was developed in 2002 and formalized in 2007. For one year, participants receive intensive treatment, live in sober and stable housing and submit to random drug testing. They attend court frequently where the judges over the programs review their progress and hold them accountable. Participants are rewarded with small incentives for doing well and may be sanctioned when they do not comply with a court order or condition of the program. More than 60 percent of those who participate successfully complete the program each year. Over the past eight years more than 150 men and women have graduated from the program.

Drug courts have proven to be the most effective justice intervention for treating drug-addicted people. It costs about $12,060 to incarcerate one person for 180 days, almost three times more than the $4,185 it costs to give that same person six months of drug treatment.

In 2012, the U.S. Government Accountability Office submitted a report to the Congress confirming drug courts reduce substance abuse and crime and save money. Nationally, drug courts return to the community up to $27 for every $1 invested. Drug courts reduce crime by up to 50 percent, and the longest study to date shows reductions lasted an astounding 14 years.

Likewise, veterans treatment courts have evolved to meet the growing need for a treatment court designed specifically for veterans with diagnosed substance abuse and/or mental health issues. Research continues to draw a link between substance abuse and combat–related mental illness.

The Kansas City Municipal Veterans Treatment Court began in August 2009 and builds upon military camaraderie by allowing participants to go through the treatment court process with people who are similarly situated and have common past experiences and through the use of volunteer veteran mentors.

Drug courts and veterans treatment courts represent ways to not only save money, but to save the lives of our neighbors and our troops. This year’s National Drug Court Month celebration should signal that the time has come to realize the economic and societal benefits of expanding these proven budget solutions to all in need.

This blog post is part of A Healthy 10.

A Healthy 10

Health Forward Foundation
2300 Main Street, Suite 304
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 241-7006