Drug Courts Playing Key Role Moving Prison Spends to Addictions

Addiction Treatment Industry Newswire
07/02/2013 –ATIN – As drug courts continue to boom while the states revolt against soaring costs of imprisoning addicts, drug court judges are playing an increasingly key micro role in facilitating a shift of spending priorities away from jails and prisons toward addiction treatment drug rehab alcohol rehab facilities at both the state and local levels.

$50B Prison Spend

With most states having corrections as among their top three spending line items, and in the aggregate with annual state prison spending tripling to $50B over the last 20-yrs, legislatures and governors of all ideological stripes nationwide are looking to end the failed lock-up trend. Even crime tough Texas provides an example of this phenomenon. Its recent legislative session saw lawmakers refuse to fund three new proposed prisons while boosting addiction treatment spending by a huge $250M over the state’s 2-yr budget period. Driven has it has been by the desire to slow the big increase in jailed addicts, the number of drug courts has doubled to nearly 3,000 since the financial crisis five years ago while overall state prison spending has remained flat during the period.

Drug Courts Advocate

Meanwhile, as prison spending ebbs in favor of addiction treatment, drug court judges have emerged as key and highly influential players helping determine the size and direction of new treatment funding flows, ensuring in some cases that money saved on prison spending makes its way to addiction treatment centers. Many thousands of public funds reliant addiction centers were hit hard by large financial crisis driven budget cuts by the states, which pre-crisis previously represented the fastest growing funding source for addiction treatment.

Judge Paying $438 per Bed

Just one recent example of this trend comes out of West Virginia, a state that is among the worst in terms drug abuse problems, especially opiates. Despite the immensity of the problem – a state Senate committee recently estimated 130,000 people need some level of addictions care – West Virginia has just 250 longer term residential addiction treatment beds and 7,000 available for shorter term stays such as detox. At the micro local level, Boone County circuit judge Bill Thomson pointed out last week to the county commission that the biggest problem facing the county’s justice system is a lack of residential beds for addiction treatment, adding that bed waits in his court have doubled to one full year. Thus, based on a proposal by Judge Thomson, Boone County commissioners voted unanimously last week to commit funding at $438 per day to “rent” beds from treatment facilities. And Judge Thomson’s next stop is neighboring Lincoln County where he will be making the same $438-a-day treatment proposal to commissioners there – all at a substantial savings to the $600 a day it costs to jail an addict.


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