Commentary: “All Rise!” National Drug Court Month Demonstrates That Drug Courts are a Proven Budget Solution
Whenever a judge enters the courtroom to take the bench, you’ll typically hear a court officer proclaim: “All Rise!” For centuries, these two words have inspired a sense of awe and respect for our judicial process.
However, in drug court, “All Rise” means something more. Instead of an order, “All Rise” has become a promise — a promise to help lighten the burden of addiction for those unable to overcome it alone. A promise to provide the treatment and accountability needed to put people back on track.
More than 2,400 drug courts nationwide are currently celebrating National Drug Court Month by bringing this promise to bear. By month’s end, thousands of individuals who entered the criminal justice system addicted to drugs and facing incarceration will complete drug court and emerge as productive, taxpaying citizens. And as they rise out of the depths of addiction, their families and communities rise with them.
National Drug Court Month is a powerful demonstration of what has become our most successful justice program. More than a decade of research has established that drug courts significantly reduce substance abuse and drug-related crime and produce greater cost benefits than any other criminal justice strategy.
In fact, two-thirds of drug court participants nationally will complete a year or more of intensive treatment and 75 percent of those will never see another pair of handcuffs; saving a fortune. That success translates into $27 of savings to tax-payers for every $1 invested in drug courts.
This year, National Drug Court Month comes amid renewed interest in criminal justice reform. State and national leaders are calling for an end to America’s costly overreliance on incarceration and immediate reductions to our $70 billion annual expenditure on corrections. Drug courts sit squarely at the center of these initiatives. From saving money to saving lives, from eliminating racial disparities to protecting public safety, from cutting crime to restoring families, from treating veterans to stopping impaired drivers, drug courts present an opportunity for reform that appeals to pragmatists on all sides of the debate.
In December, “Right on Crime,” located at the Texas Public Policy Institute in Austin, launched an initiative making the conservative case for criminal justice reform. To quote their priorities, “In Drug Courts, America has found not only a solution to an important public policy problem, it has hit yet again upon an essential conservative truth – the power of personal responsibility and accountability.”
On May 16, President Obama issued a special statement praising drug courts as a smart investment. This comes three months after he requested a record level of funding for drug courts in the FY ’12 budget. Just yesterday, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske attended a drug court graduation in Annapolis, Maryland. He reiterated the Administration’s support, saying that drug courts provide a critical service to families and communities. This nation appears ready to reap the vast economic and societal benefits of expanding drug court as a proven budget solution. I certainly hope we All Rise to the occasion.
West Huddleston, CEO of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals