Prohibition didn't work in the '30s, and it's not working now.
And over the years, the prison population in America has burgeoned with inmates serving sentences arising from drug abuse.
Indeed, the criminalization of addiction has proven a costly venture.
More recently, policymakers have realized that the “war on drugs,” with more people going to prison to serve longer sentences on drug related cases just isn't working.
The cost of warehousing nonviolent drug offenders, and the opportunity cost of not addressing the issue of converting a chemically dependent person into a productive member of society, has taken a toll on the criminal justice system and society as a whole.
Hence the advent of drug courts in various jurisdictions throughout the nation, including Missouri, where persons charged with drug offenses go into an intensive, long-range monitoring and treatment program, with regular court appearances, and constant judicial oversight.
Under Missouri's drug court program, qualified offenders' charges remain pending throughout their drug court oversight period, they enter treatment with regular drug screening, and report to regular dockets, where the drug court judges keep constant track of their treatment and abstinence progress.
Upon successful completion of their program, the defendants graduate in a spirited ceremony, and the charge is dismissed.
Those who can't comply with the intensive mandates and supervision of the drug court program go back into the regular criminal justice system for prosecution.
According to a report published by the Missouri Bar, drug court costs one-fourth to one-fifth the cost of incarceration. Drug court graduates re-offend at a rate of only about 10 percent, immensely lower than the recidivism rate of the average drug offender. And studies indicate that nationwide, drug courts reduce the overall crime rate from eight to 26 percent.
Some may say that it is entirely the fault of those who permit themselves to become involved in drug use that are the cause of their problems, and punishment, not treatment and leniency, is the proper approach.
However, the lessons of the war on drugs shows us that the cost of that approach is enormous, not only to the criminal justice system, in courts, prosecutors, police and prisons, but to the families, loved ones, and children of the drug involved, for whom punishment does not equate to treatment of the underlying problem of addiction.
At some point that cost must be considered in evaluating the new treatment based approach to nonviolent drug offenses offered by the drug court program.
Ken Garten is a Blue Springs attorney. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org