Wednesday’s Gazette opinion told the story of young people who are recovering from addictions to alcohol and other drugs in Billings Municipal DUI Treatment Court. It argued for continued support for treatment courts in Montana.
Statistics back up personal success stories. According to the latest report from the office of Supreme Court Administrator:
Montana treatment courts logged 1,304 admissions between May 2008 and September 2012. During that period, less than 3 percent of these offenders committed new felonies and 20 percent committed misdemeanors. The remaining 77 percent had no new offenses.
Nearly 96 percent of adults graduating from Montana treatment courts have jobs, but 42 percent were unemployed when they started treatment court.
In 2012, 13 Montana treatment courts funded by the state spent a total of $797,171 in general fund money. They admitted 351 clients during the year for an average cost of $4,412 per admission. That may seem like a lot of money until it is compared with the cost of a year in jail or prison, the cost of multiple emergency room visits, hospitalizations in the community or at the state psychiatric hospital, DUI crashes that kill and injure, thefts and other crimes committed to feed drug habits.
A cost-benefit analysis conducted for the Cascade County Adult Drug Court estimated that society avoided $11,070 in costs per participant in one year.
Nationally, drug courts save up to $27 for every $1 invested. The savings includes reduced costs for incarceration, crime and health care, according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.
Addicts in drug courts are six times more likely to complete treatment than those in other types of treatment programs.
Children in family drug courts spend less time in out-of-home placements and are 50 percent more likely to be reunited with a parent.
As a California Superior Court judge, Peggy Fulton Hora became one of the nation’s drug court pioneers 25 years ago, chairing a committee that set up the first treatment court in her state. Now there are 2,700 treatment courts in 20 countries.
“We could never have predicted the success,” said Hora who is in Billings this week to train teams from some of Montana’s 30 treatment courts.
Hora’s visit to Billings and other training sessions planned in Montana are designed to help our courts ensure that their operating standards are following best practices. Hora said research has identified key components of effective treatment courts, such as the judge spending the right amount of time with clients in their weekly court appearances, quick placement of people coming into treatment and serving “high-risk, high-need” offenders.
Hora said these programs have gained support because they gather hard data on outcomes, costs and savings.
“Legislatures and court administrators need to recognize treatment courts as a necessary and vital part of the court system,” Hora said.
Addictions, often combined with other mental illnesses, are factors in the majority of crimes and incarcerations. Yet treatment courts are funded to serve just a tiny fraction of the estimated 1.2 million U.S. offenders who are addicts. Treatment courts are well worth greater investment.