The first graduates are leaving a drug court program credated in Gwinnett County, Ga., in 2004, says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Participants pay to go through strict supervision, drug testing and drug treatment, rather than face stiff jail time. The program mirrors the efforts of other states looking to keep nonviolent addicts from crowding jails. Gwinnett’s program has had 62 participants; 13 graduated yesterday, and 15 were dropped and went to prison.
For some, the 18- to 24-month drug court program is a gamble. Participants plead guilty up front. Successfully completing the program wipes the conviction from the participant’s criminal record. They stand to do more time in prison if they fail. The average sentence is 13 months. In many cases, a simple guilty plea would have been met with probation or a short jail term. The program pays for itself. Participants pay $165 a month for treatment and testing. It costs Gwinnett County about $40 a day to keep an inmate in jail. “We can treat them a lot cheaper than they can keep them in jail,” said an administrator.