A new misdemeanor drug court program in Nashville produced its first graduate yesterday, the Tennessean reports. He is a 24-year-old longtime drug user nicknamed “Rico” whose drug screens have been clean for 14 months and who now has a high school diploma and a job. Unlike Nashville’s nationally recognized felony drug court program, which began in 1997, the misdemeanor court focuses on lower-level drug users and doesn’t require participants to live full time in a treatment facility.
Every person who gets treatment in drug court and stays out of jail saves taxpayers $55 a day in incarceration costs. A drug offender with special needs can cost taxpayers as much as $120 a day. By comparison, drug court, which uses the threat of jail, along with inpatient and outpatient treatment programs, costs about $10 a day. After just a year, it’s too early to measure the new program’s success. Nationwide, drug court recidivism rates run between 11 and 14 percent, said Judge Casey Moreland, who presides over the Nashville court. The threat of jail time is what makes the drug courts so successful, he said. “That’s the hammer.”