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Local drug court efficacy examined

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Amarillo, TX - With state and federal budget cuts becoming normal and expected, Texas lawmakers continue looking for ways to cut costs. 

And drug courts are touted as cost-savers, but some still question their effectiveness.

Recently, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a right-leaning think tank out of Austin, released a report highly critical of the state jail system.  The report says the system is inefficient, poorly managed, and ultimately wasteful of taxpayer dollars.

It's important to note that state jails are not the same thing as state prisons.  Texas state jails were created in 1993, and were intended to house low-level offenders for short sentences (less than 2 years), thereby streamlining the incarceration process for relatively minor offenders.

But housing inmates is by far one of the biggest expenses of the criminal justice system, and drug courts replace incarceration with probation, thereby eliminating the need for housing.

"I think the rates are in Potter and Randall County, anywhere from 40 to 50 dollars a day to house an inmate," says 181st District Court Judge John Board, "so one of the ways we measure our success if they're staying compliant, and staying in drug court, they're not in prison, and so we're saving the taxpayers that incarceration cost."

The idea behind drug courts is that by providing supervised probation along with drug counseling, regular court meetings and drug testing, and specific requirements like steady employment will lower both costs and recidivism.

"Our primary goal of course, is to number one, protect the public, but number two, help that individual with that drug or alcohol problem, so that they can be successful and they can ultimately complete their probation," explains Board.

But some aren't completely sold on the idea of drug courts, pointing to low graduation rates.  Our own drug court, for example, was created in October of 2010, and in its two years of existence, it has had a total of 112 participants, but only 14 graduates.

Board says graduation rates are only one litmus test of efficacy, saying, "When you're talking about recidivism, of course, there's different ways to measure it.  but when we looked, we found that of the 68 that have been discharged, only two have committed new crimes."

Currently, our drug court is funded by a continuing federal grant.

If you'd like to read the TPPF's report for yourself, follow the link attached to this story.

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