Drug courts, which are multiplying across the nation, began 18 years ago as an experiment to attack a crack cocaine epidemic in Miami, says USA Today. They rely on treatment, rigorous supervision and accountability as a way to help non-violent drug users rather than sending them to prison. There are now 2,016 drug courts in 1,100 counties, says the National Drug Court Institute. That number is up from 1,048 five years ago and is nearly 1,800 more than existed 10 years ago. The institute’s West Huddleston says a 2005 study showed 70 percent of drug court participants graduate from the program and reoffend at a rate of 17 percent on average, compared to the 66 percent recidivism rate of drug offenders who do time in prison. The study showed the annual average cost of a drug court participant is $3,500, compared to annual prison costs that range from $13,000 to $44,000 per inmate.
Drug courts are funded by a combination of federal, state, and charitable dollars. There is $15.2 million for Justice Department drug court grants in the 2008 budget that awaits President Bush’s signature. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has $10.2 million in the 2008 budget to add treatment beds within drug courts. Eric Miller, an assistant professor of law at Saint Louis University is among the unconvinced. He said drug courts take away the adversarial design and use the judge to engage the defendant in a 12-step style program. “That’s not what judges do,” he said. He questions whether there is enough thought to weeding out the people the drug court doesn’t suit.