These Are Your Letters on Drugs
Thanks for devoting a special issue to the "war on drugs" [Dec. 27], a maladaptive, bigoted, dishonest and unjust policy that has been running for decades. When alcohol-consuming legislators decide their substance is the one acceptable choice, and they seek to punish all for the problems of a few, we have a hypocritical policy. Silence implies consent for its dishonesty, injustice and prejudice and the persecution of the people imprisoned because of it. Speaking out for drug policy justice shows real courage.
Tracy Velázquez, in "The Verdict on Drug Courts," acknowledges that drug courts save lives but feels the money could be better spent on other community programs. Science says otherwise. Two decades of rigorous research—including a nationwide study sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, hundreds of evaluations and five meta-analyses (advanced statistical procedures)—prove beyond a reasonable doubt that drug courts outperform all other programs for addicted offenders. For every $1 invested in drug courts, taxpayers reap at least $2 to $3 in net economic benefits, often considerably more.
It is naïve to expect the same results without the backing of a judge. Outside the courts, 25 percent of addicted offenders never enroll in treatment and another 50 percent drop out. Less than 5 percent achieve long-term sobriety. Drug courts double, triple and even quadruple the odds of success.
Requiring a guilty plea is one critical ingredient. People who have hurt themselves and others are given a choice: go to trial or go to treatment. If they choose treatment, the guilty plea provides just the right leverage to keep them coming back when the cravings, withdrawal symptoms and drug-using lifestyle beckon. And after they have succeeded in treatment, the guilty plea and its consequences are withdrawn.
Drug courts draw on and expand the resources in their communities. No services are usurped and no one is arrested who would not otherwise have been arrested if the drug court never existed. Let’s face it, substance abuse treatment professionals have little public recognition and almost no political influence. But in partnership with the courts, they can effect real change. Decades of political anomie are fading away as these professionals are making a real difference that can be felt at the societal level. Why would Velázquez want to turn back the clock?
DOUGLAS B. MARLOWE
National Association of Drug Court Professionals
Doug Marlowe’s comments miss my point: drug courts are an expensive attempt to use the justice system to fix a public health problem. He tries to address their expense by restating that they have greater benefits than costs, but the reality is that treatment in the community produces $18 in benefits for every dollar spent, clearly an exponentially greater benefit. Perhaps if the public were more aware of this value, treatment providers wouldn’t, as Marlowe suggests, need the justice system to validate their worth!
And recent experiences in places like Denver counter Marlowe’s assertion that drug courts don’t cause more arrests. A judge there reported that the number of criminal drug filings increased three times in the two years following the implementation of the drug court, while the number of drug admissions to prison doubled. With corrections costs already straining state budgets, we just can’t afford to continue dealing with addiction as a crime.