Be careful with treatment vs. prison proposal
I support most of what the governor lays out in his agenda with some reservation with respect to how courts will use early intervention tools. As director of the state Sentencing Commission I became well aware of the evidence-based practices.
Evidence-based practices with respect to drug offenders started with an analysis of drug courts. The concept is to use the power of courts to require drug treatment, coupled with strict supervision and monitoring. This strategy has been shown to reduce drug use and criminal recidivism.
Drug treatment models are more expensive than traditional criminal justice models. However, consistent studies have shown that they are an overall savings because fewer offenders come back.
Treatment models are not a panacea. Much of the study of evidence practices has been done by the Washington Institute for Public Policy. Their early work has largely stood the test of time in that drug courts can reduce recidivism by about 16 percent.
How is that calculated? Forty-five percent of felony drug offenders processed in regular courts can be expected to be convicted of another felony in Washington after a 10 year follow up. Those that went through a drug court model had a recidivism rate of 38 percent.
So I support models like our Sparrow Project, early intervention for drug offenders, Diversion and Justice Center models. But a sober analysis requires that the public be aware that these programs focused on treating the addiction are not a cure-all. One cannot ignore the importance of interdiction in this mix.
Putting an addict in a treatment bed costs taxpayers $300-$600 per night, depending on the rate and facility. That may be a worthwhile investment if it reduces by 16 percent the chance that the addict will commit a new crime. But while we need to treat addiction as a public health issue, we need to stop the flow of drugs coming into the state.
If we help one addict on the same day out-of-state dealers and their local henchmen hook two new citizens on heroin, we are going to lose this battle. Effective police interdiction is an essential part of this battle. I support cracking down on those who import drugs into the state.
I fear that among some legislators there is a perception that dealers are “nonviolent criminals.” I am not talking about the addict who sells to a couple of people to support her habit. I am talking about the capitalists.
Pushes to reform bail laws to get dealers back out on the streets on “house arrest” are shortsighted. It will only lead to more people getting hooked on the poison these dealers are peddling. It will also lead to a lack of confidence in our criminal justice system for the communities which are hardest hit.
In conclusion, I wholeheartedly support the governor’s proposals to increase funding for early intervention and treatment. But I have reservations about an implementation which may allow defense attorneys to argue to judges that every dealer is an addict, as a means to get them back into the communities which are afraid of them.
Michael Kainen is the Windsor County state’s attorney.