Drug Courts and Taxpayer Savings

R. Mihaly
I. Drug Crime Incarceration

Incarceration in U.S. jails and prisons has reached 2.2 million people. $80 billion per year is spent directly, annually on corrections (Pettus-Davis et al, 2016). A 2016 Washington University study, which included costs to families, children and society, yielded an aggregate burden of $1.2 trillion dollars. This is consistent with the rule of thumb that for every dollar in corrections costs, incarceration generates an additional $10 in social costs (Pettus-Davis).`

Much of this incarceration explosion can be attributed to drug crimes. Drug offenders are incarcerated at state, local and federal facilities. Nonviolent drug convictions are a defining characteristic of the federal prison system. One in five is incarcerated for a drug offense. (Sentencing Project, 2015). The number of drug offenders in federal prison has increased by 21 times since 1980 (Leon-Guerrero, 2015). There has been a 500% increase over the last forty years. This is a result of changes in sentencing law and policy, rather than an increase in crime (Sentencing Project, 2015).

In 2012 there were 1,552,432 drug arrests in the U.S., the far majority of which were for drug possession (Wagner & Rabuy, 2016). The U.S. Department of Justice confirms a very high percentage of arrestees at risk of drug dependence (ADAM, 2016).

The Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) study was a national survey with objective data (from urinalysis) on drug use and its cost. ADAM found between one-fourth and one-half of all adult males arrested, and roughly one-half of all females arrested, were at risk for drug dependence (ADAM, 2016; Brecht, 2003).

II. Drug Courts

$1.2 trillion dollars represents six percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. As the fiscal burdens of criminal incarceration have increased, so has a proven and also rapidly-expanding method of bringing these expenditures to more sustainable levels. Since the first drug courts in 1989, they have been extensively studied and found to have strong, positive effects on both recidivism and net reductions of public expenditures.

Judge Gerald Wetherington of the Florida Eleventh Judicial Circuit founded the nation's first drug court in Miami in 1989 (Gaines & Miller, 2008). By 2010 there were 1,600 drug courts operating in 50 states (Burke, 2010) and by June 30, 2015, there were 3,142 Drug Courts (NDCRC, 2015). According to the National Institute of Justice, this number has grown to over 3,400 drug courts throughout the US (NIJ, 2015).

Drug courts have spread to other nations such as Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Bermuda, Jamaica and Tasmania (Marlowe, 2010; Berman & Feinblatt, 2005). Drug courts offer features such as a non-adversarial courtroom; ongoing judicial monitoring; evaluation; continuous, mandatory involvement in drug abuse treatment; and coordinated support from court, public sector and community-based personnel. (Marlowe, 2010; Moore, 2013).

III. Cost Savings

Basic studies compare drug court expenditures to traditional court, probation, and incarceration expenditures. Jurisdictions vary widely in expenditures for these services, as well as the range of services offered by drug courts. Consequently, there is a range of savings across jurisdictions.

There are substantial differences in the organization and costs of both drug treatment courts and business-as-usual courts. For example, 2004 Crumpton, et al. found notable differences in costs of Maryland drug treatment court programs. Cost per participant in Baltimore City was $10,480, compared to $2,109 in Anne Arundel County (Crumpton, et al., 2004).

The Michigan Supreme Court State Court Administrative Office has commissioned several studies on the Kalamazoo County Adult Drug Treatment Court. Male and female graduates of Michigan's drug courts have incurred less than 25% of the costs of similar cases resolved in traditional courts (Marchand, 2006).

Multnomah County Drug Court, Oregon's most populous county, of which Portland is its county seat, has been studied for more than a decade. The total reported outcome cost savings over a 5-year period was $6,744 per participant, and $12,218 when victimization costs were included. Over the period from 1991 through 2001, Multnomah County Drug Court's STOP Program resulted in a total system savings of more than $79 million (Finigan, 2007).

A 2007 Kentucky drug courts study showed an average annual savings per participant of $14,111. Cost per capita for drug court participants was $3,083, versus $17,194 for persons in prison (Huseman, 2010). Going back to an earlier drug court study, the California Drug and Alcohol Treatment Assessment (CALDATA) in 1994 tracked 1,821 California drug court participants and found an average cost of $1,400 per person, with a net taxpayer savings of approximately $10,000 (Roberts, 2012).

A 2012 series of cost analyses of drug courts across the U.S. found average costs savings per participant ranging from $2,615 to $12,218 and average benefits per $1 invested ranging from $1.74 to $6.32 (Moore, 2014). Savings are greater in some jurisdictions. For example, average costs savings per participant in the Los Angeles drug court is estimated at $27,000 to $28,000 per participant (Moore, 2013).

IV. More Comprehensively-Measured Cost Savings

Methods of drug court cost analysis range from the basic prison cost savings to comprehensive analyses of system costs, lost productivity costs, social welfare costs, foster care placements and healthcare utilization, re-arrests, subsequent court cases, subsequent treatment (residential, residential detox, outpatient, and intensive outpatient), probation, prison, parole, jail time, public health care, food stamps, reduced mental health and substance abuse treatment costs and victimization costs. Researchers Carey & Waller have developed a list of twenty-seven practices considered in calculating savings and costs associated with drug court programs (2011).

Multnomah County Drug Court has saved about $2.5 million a year in criminal justice costs, but over $10 million per year in savings when victimization, theft reduction, public assistance, and medical costs were factored (Moore, 2012). When a full complement of avoided costs are considered, the savings is substantial, up to $27.00 per $1 invested (Solomon, 2016; Moore, 2012).

Cumulative recidivism savings in the Superior Court of Sacramento County Drug Court alone were calculated at $20,257,535. (Moore, 2012). Californian drug courts' cost offset and cost avoidance are estimated at $43 million per year. Projections of savings in California conclude that by the ninth year one million dollars is saved for every 100 drug court participants (Moore, 2012).

Specific costs associated with drug abuse can be enormous. For example, when babies born to addicted mothers, particularly opium-addicted mothers, may suffer from a condition known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS. Last year, the typical overall cost of care for a newborn child suffering from NAS was found to be $159,000 to $238,000 beyond that of a typical newborn (Peltz & Anand, 2015).

V. Immediate Cost Reduction versus "Business as Usual"

In 1999 the California Administrative Office of the Courts secured a grant from the Drug Court Program Office of the United States Department of Justice to study the costs of adult drug courts (Crumpton, et al., 2004). It found that in some cases the implementation of drug courts immediately reduces the costs of processing eligible clients as compared to business as usual. They noted one county processed clients through drug court at an immediate savings to the criminal justice system of $1,500 per client (Crumpton, et al., 2004).

CALDATA reported costs of alcohol and drug treatment for 150,000 participants in California in 1992 was $209 million. Each day of treatment paid for itself in reduced government expenditures on the day it was received, primarily through avoidance of crime (Gerstein, 1994). Gerstein found the benefits of drug and alcohol treatment reduced costs by ratios from 4:1 to greater than 12:1, depending on the type of treatment.

Similarly, in 2003 Carey found a total investment cost per client of the drug court was less (by $1,441.52) than the investment cost per client of the "business as usual" process. Cary further found a total cost savings over a 30-month period (including victimization costs) of $5071.57 per drug court participant (Carey, 2003).

Finigan found data over 10 years of operation of the Multnomah County Drug Court actually costs less to operate than the cost of "business as usual" (Finigan, 2007). The drug court cost $5,168 per participant while the cost per offender for "business as usual" was $6,560, a difference of $1,392 (Finigan, 2007). The Drug Court's operation itself saved the taxpayer more than $9 million over the 10-year study period. Id.

Several researchers have explicitly noted drug courts cost less to operate than processing offenders through business-as-usual (Finigan, 2007; Carey et al., 2005; Carey and Finigan, 2004; Crumpton, et al., 2004; Carey & Finigan, 2003; Gerstein, 1994).

VI. Measuring Savings

Measurement of pain and suffering from violent victimization or loss of life is not included in this review because of subjectivity. The most immediately useful measurement for policy makers is a "cost-to-taxpayer" comparison of public costs to avoided public costs. Some publicly-funded opportunity resource costs may be elusive, such as when substance abuse treatment reduces incarceration occupancy rates. A Sheriff may not see a change in budget, yet an opportunity resource of a vacant jail bed becomes available (Marchand, 2006).

Drug courts lower recidivism and reduce taxpayer expenditures compared to traditional court processing. Law enforcement, courts, and corrections expenses are relieved by drug courts. Numerous studies have shown drug courts reduce net government spending (e.g., Breckenridge, 2016; DOJ, 2016; Mihaly, 2016; NADCP, 2016; Hubbard, 2015; O'Dea, E., 2015; Moore, 2012; Blenkinsop, 2008; Finigan, 2007; Lepp et al., 2007; Mitchell, et. al., 2007; Vick & Keating, 2007; Aos et. al., 2006; Carey, 2006; Latimer et. al., 2006; Shaffer, 2006; Marchand, 2006; Butler et al., 2005; GAO, 2005; Carey et al., 2005; Carey and Finigan, 2004; Wilson, et al. 2002; Belenko, 1998)

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Thompson credits accountability courts such as Georgia's drug courts with saving the state $20 million each year in prison costs (Thompson, 2014). The Honorable Seth Norman, a criminal court judge in Nashville, Tennessee calculates drug courts save his community $51,134 per person (Norman, 2015).

VII. Conclusion

There are over 3,400 drug courts across all 50 states (NIJ, 2015; LaFave et. al., 2015). Since 1989, these courts have saved over 1.4 million lives and billions of tax dollars (Solomon, 2016). These courts average savings of up to $13,000 for each individual they serve and return as much as $27 for every $1 invested (Solomon, 2016; Moore, 2012).

Expenditure reductions provided by implementation of drug courts offer an opportunity to relieve budgetary pressures at local, state, and national levels. Drug court expansion can contribute towards fiscal sustainability and ensure solutions to today's challenges don't burden future generations with long-term fiscal imbalances. Gratefully, drug courts have also been repeatedly, and not coincidentally, shown to reduce recidivism (Mihaly, 2016). Drug courts reduce taxpayer expenditures and the enormous social and personal costs associated with person and property crimes are avoided.

VIII. References

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