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13. Cost per participant of operating a drug court

Costs described in this section do not consider savings generated by drug courts. There are some analysts who compute cost differently. I suggest $2,500 per participant is a fair (and easily remembered) figure. The cost figures stated are independent of savings generated by drug court. Indeed, the data below establishes that for every dollar spent on drug court, the savings to the Corrections is $2.2 dollars per dollar spent, and $3.3 dollars saved where the drug court focuses on high risk offenders. When savings outside corrections are considered, (such as Medicaid, foster care, institutional care, schools and other public costs), the savings are determined to be between $2 and $27 for every dollar spent. The difference between $2 and $27 arises from the costliness of the matter eliminated by drug court and studied by the economist. The more expensive it is, (2 months in ICU or 3 month of foster care) the greater the savings.

How much do local drug courts cost per participant? National Association of Drug Court Professionals has conducted many research projects on cost per participant at and by National Drug Court Institute, at The methodology of calculating varies. The figure of $2,500 per participant continues to appear from the drug court research projects. Some calculate the cost of each component even if the component (probation, jail facilities for violators, local outpatient treatment, inpatient treatment, mental health assessment programming, indigent defense, district attorney, judge) is available for every probationer who ends up in drug court even if the probationer were not in drug court. The Virginia cost benefit analysis that follows does such an analysis. The Virginia analysis is more fully explained below, and that study found a cost of $2160 per participant.

I did an analysis of the cost per participant in 9A drug court by considering how much was needed to be raised. My analysis was: what if any money is raised to operate the drug court program from local taxpayer money, state taxpayer money, local mental health agency grant money, United Way or local charity money, or local ABC money. During fiscal 2011-2012, the year that state funding was cut, my drug court raised no outside funds and still managed to operate. We did so without salaried administrator, salaried case manager, or training budget. Contrast $0 spent in one year in Judicial District 9A Drug Court with press reports that indicated that $18,000 would be the cost per participant in a contiguous drug court in Danville, Virginia area. How to explain a swing from $18,000 to $0?

Drug treatment courts are like an "add on" to probation. In North Carolina, all of the components except for local administrator (information, collection and exchange of information within the treatment team) are already funded. Drug treatment courts utilize services which are utilized in other probation cases, and add the services peculiar to drug court. Every state provides or mandates a number of services for probationers. Supervision, curfew monitoring, substance abuse treatment services, jail, detox, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, inpatient drug treatment, inpatient detox, training for service providers, probation violation hearings, attorneys for indigent defendants in hearings involving probation violations and other re-incarceration threats, judges to try violations, state attorneys to prosecute violations, and other services are among services which are provided to persons on probation in North Carolina. Drug treatment courts simply utilize the universe of services which are, and have been provided to probationers for decades.

Coordination of all of the services makes the services more powerful and muscular. Coordination is typically performed by an administrator, case manager or both. The administrator and case manager meet the probationer, assure that appropriate screenings are provided, direct and "nudge" the probationer to enroll in and complete meetings and services that are required, follow up when probationers are out of compliance or when additional services are needed. Incentives need to be obtained, and the administrator or case manager usually does this. Compliance and non-compliance with program requirements needs to be reported to some state-wide agency which can collect and report to state authorities and to funding agencies. Theoretically, many services of the administrator and case manager could be performed by a well-trained probation officer, but these responsibilities are outside of the job description of the usual probation officer. In fiscal year 2011 - 2012, my Judicial District 9A drug court had one grant employee who was able to share the "add on" responsibilities of the administrator in order to keep the court in operation. In fiscal year 2012 - 2013, the grant employee became unavailable, and a retired probation officer was hired part-time to perform some of the "add on" responsibilities. It must be admitted that from 2011 until 2015 the judicial District 9A drug treatment court operated without any training other than that provided in staffing sessions. The trial judge continued to take training at his own expense during this period, and to relay some of the training he gained to the other team members. The District 9A drug treatment court was fortunate in that almost all of its team members had received substantial training before the budget cuts of 2011.

I would never suggest that a Wake County or Mecklenburg County or Guilford County or other larger County drug treatment court could operate as inexpensively as the District 9A court. District 9A is a small population with caseloads dramatically lower than that in most districts. Further, the operation of the 9A drug treatment court required the team members to perform in ways that they had not performed previously.

The Virginia cost benefit analysis addresses "cost per participant" in Section 20, Question 3, of this document. question three, starting on page 37. The total cost of all supervision, assessment, drug testing, probation supervision and treatment was $17,900.82 when computed according to "transactional and institutional cost analysis" or TICA analysis. Drug court supervision was stated at $2,160, this being the largest component. (See table 8, page 38 of the analysis.) Recalling that all of the local components are already funded except for drug court supervision, The Virginia study sets this figure at $2,160.