The Dollars and Sense of Drug Court

With the state of the Arizona economy and the increased focus on government spending, it's a pleasure to be able to tell you about a program that saves money and achieves phenomenal results. I'm talking about the Navajo County Drug Court.

Drug Court is an intensive four-stage program of treatment, counseling, drug testing and incentives for substance abusers who have no history of violent crime, admit they have a substance abuse problem, and are committed to turning their lives around. It is an alternative to jail, but it's a rigorous program and is by no means an "easy way out" for those who are eligible to participate.

The Navajo County Drug Court was started in 2006 through a collaborative partnership of the Navajo County Attorney, Public Defender, Superior Court and Probation Department, as well as Community Counseling Centers. Our Drug Court is modeled on hundreds of others throughout the U.S. that have proved their worth since 1994.

Why does Drug Court make sense - not only for the participants and their families, but also for the communities in which they live?

First, substance abuse is a vicious cycle. The typical abuser is arrested and convicted, is sent to jail, is released after serving his sentence, and quickly relapses into more abuse and criminal activity to support his habit. We call this the "cycle of abuse," and it repeats itself over and over until the abuser is finally sent to prison for a lengthy stay. Drug Court can prevent the cycle of abuse from starting and "nip it in the bud," as Barney Fife might say, and set the abuser on the road toward rehabilitation rather than recidivism.

Second, the typical abuser must constantly commit other crimes like robbery and theft to support his expensive habit. Historically, about 80 percent of the inmates in the Navajo County Jail are there for crimes related to substance abuse. When Drug Court breaks the cycle of abuse and helps participants become productive members of their communities, we all benefit.

So how does Drug Court save dollars? This is an especially important question in these difficult times.

Housing someone in jail or prison is extremely expensive. The cost of housing an inmate in the Navajo County Jail is more than $68 per day, and a day at a Department of Corrections prison runs about the same. These figures do not include extraordinary medical expenses, which can run tens of thousands of dollars if an inmate has a serious problem. In comparison, the cost of the outpatient treatment associated with Drug Court is only about $8 a day.

When an abuser is released from jail or prison, the cycle of abuse typically resumes. The community suffers the crime losses associated with the cycle of abuse, and the taxpayer-funded justice system incurs the expense of repeated prosecutions. By breaking the cycle of abuse, Drug Court dramatically reduces these losses and expenses. This is why agencies such as my office, the Public Defender, the Superior Court and the Probation Department are so enthusiastic about Drug Court - it unquestionably saves us - and you - money.

Together with the governing boards of other counties and cities around the country, the Navajo County Board of Supervisors is proclaiming May as "Drug Court Month" in recognition of the economic and social benefits that flow from Drug Court. Maintaining and expanding our Drug Court program is truly a matter of "dollars and sense."

I want to close with a plea for you to assist our Drug Court effort in any way you can. As an example, the NPC Foundation (the charitable arm of Northland Pioneer College) is sponsoring scholarships to provide tuition and books for Drug Court participants who want to attend classes at the college. A donation to the Foundation, or to the Drug Court Fund, would be most welcome.

We are also happy to receive new items of merchandise or gift cards that can be used as incentives for Drug Court participants. Perhaps you can give a job to a Drug Court participant or graduate, or volunteer with one of the community agencies that assists Drug Court. At a minimum, please let the Board of Supervisors and other local elected officials know you appreciate and support Drug Court and want them to continue supporting it.

As you think about the ways you might assist our Drug Court effort, remember that the dollars I've been talking about saving are largely your taxpayer dollars. Although Drug Court is funded in part by grants, all grants are uncertain in this economy and there is no question that the economic and social benefits of Drug Court flow to all Navajo County residents.

When Drug Court succeeds, we all win.

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