Weekly Columns

Hempstead County resident Tony found himself on the wrong side of the law. After 19 years of drug use, he didn’t have the will to quit. He was faced with the decision of time behind bars, or time to change his lifestyle. With the help of drug court, he kicked his habit. Now 18 months clean, he calls drug court a blessing in disguise.
He is one of hundreds of Arkansans who have drug courts to thank for turning their lives around. For more than two decades, these courts have offered Arkansas’s drug-addicted, non-violent offenders an alternative to jail while rehabilitating them through a strenuous treatment program.
I had the opportunity to meet with Arkansas drug court advocates during the annual conference of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) near Washington, D.C. These 25 Arkansans represent drug courts from across the state. They are committed to the program because they’ve seen the positive impact this investment has on the community.
Sebastian County Prosecutor Robert McClure said that it’s not unusual for him to see repeat offenders in the courtroom, but drug court offers an opportunity for these addicts to break this cycle, while saving taxpayer dollars.
A 2012 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report showed that drug courts reduce substance abuse and crime while also saving money. In Arkansas, the cost of putting an offender through the drug court program is ten times lower than locking them up.
Drug courts have proven to be an effective alternative to jail for individuals convicted of non-violent drug charges. That’s why I’m committed to providing these courts the resources they need. There is widespread, bipartisan support for drug courts. For the first time in six years, the President’s budget included designated funds for our nation’s drug courts. Additionally, I was proud to include resources in the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill to build upon the success of drug courts. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) would receive funds for drug court training and to create technical standards. The Senate Committee on Appropriations approved the bill in July.
Drug courts are a critical component of today’s criminal justice system. They reduce crime by as much as 45 percent compared to traditional sentences and have a success rate of 75 percent. This is compared to the 30 percent success rate for drug abusers released from prison. Their success has become a model for breaking the addictions of others. There are 93 approved drug courts in the state that are tailored to meet the needs of participants, including juvenile drug courts and veterans’ drug courts.
Sebastian County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Tabor recently established the state’s newest veterans treatment court. He says that if there is anyone we should give a second chance to, it is a veteran.
The willingness of the judicial system to adopt alternative methods to jail time is a cost-effective approach to changing the habits of drug addicts and saving lives like Tony’s, who is now halfway through his drug court program. As Washington pursues options for criminal justice reform, drug courts are a great example of a program that works.