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Addressing Your State's Budget Crisis:
Treatment Instead of Incarceration
As states across the nation struggle
to balance unwieldy budgets, there is a growing trend
to make criminal justice reforms that both save money
and increase public safety. The emergence of a national
movement in favor of treating, rather than incarcerating,
nonviolent drug offenders has garnered the attention
and support of legislators and the public across the
country. By taking a public health approach toward
handling drug offenders, policymakers are saving their
states millions of dollars with policies that are
proven to be more effective in reducing drug abuse
and crime than the failed 'lock 'em up' approach.
In a recent survey sponsored by the Open Society Institute,
Attitudes Toward the Criminal Justice System,"
63% of Americans consider drug abuse a problem that
should be addressed primarily through counseling and
treatment, rather than the criminal justice system.
Experts from the Drug Policy Alliance and the Campaign
for New Drug Policies estimate that California saved
at least $275 million in taxpayer money during the
first year of enforcement of Proposition 36. Extraordinary
efforts are underway in other states, such as Maryland,
to divert nonviolent offenders to treatment.
In 1996, Arizonans voted in favor of Proposition 200,
the Drug Medicalization Prevention and Control Act
of 1996, which sends first and second time nonviolent
drug offenders to treatment rather than incarceration.
According to a recent
report conducted by the Supreme Court of Arizona,
Proposition 200 saved Arizona taxpayers $6.7 million
in 1999. In addition, 62% of probationers successfully
completed the drug treatment ordered by the court.
Maryland's new treatment law immediately diverts several
thousand prisoners into drug treatment, saving the
state's taxpayers millions of dollars a year in the
process. It also provides $3 million in additional
funding for treatment and gives judges new discretion
New York state recently announced that three planned
prison closings, made possible by the state shifting
almost 7,000 nonviolent drug offenders from prison
to drug treatment over a three-year period, will save
the state a projected $18 million.
Unfortunately, the announcement was premature. This
move was proposed by the Governor, but denied
by the legislature.
Prescription: The Costs of Imprisoning Drug Offenders
in the United States," The Justice Policy
Correctly: New Prison Policies for Times of Fiscal
Crisis," The Justice Policy Institute, 2003.