Wherever you are on the political spectrum, there is much to appreciate about Luzerne County Treatment Court.
Created in 2006 and often commonly known simply as “drug court,” the program graduated its latest group of 14 participants on Friday.
For those who value social justice, the program delivers that, in the form of a second chance.
It gives those charged with nonviolent criminal offenses linked with drug or alcohol addiction the opportunity to avoid jail time and have their charges dismissed upon graduation — which hinges on successful completion of intense drug treatment.
For those who value personal responsibility and accountability, the program delivers that.
In addition to completing drug treatment, participants must demonstrate a year-long commitment to staying drug-free, as well as completing 25 hours of community service. If you don’t meet those requirements, you don’t graduate.
For those who value fiscal responsibility in government, the program also delivers that.
Since its inception, program officials say, treatment court has saved nearly $7.5 million in prison costs, reporter Brigid Edmunds-Lawrence learned, averaging about $40,000 per graduate. The average cost per day for a drug court participant is $12, compared with $94 for prison lodging, officials told Edmunds-Lawrence.
What’s not to like? That we need the program at all. That drugs remain a scourge on our society and that many nonviolent offenders across the nation are still mired in the criminal justice system and costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars each to prosecute and incarcerate.
According to a 2016 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), every 25 seconds in the United States someone is arrested for the simple act of possessing drugs for their personal use.
As a result of these arrests, HRW added, on any given day at least 137,000 men and women are behind bars in the United States for drug possession, some 48,000 of them in state prisons and 89,000 in jails, most of the latter in pretrial detention.
Many of those arrested spend extended periods on probation and parole, the report adds, often burdened with crippling debt from court-imposed fines and fees. Their criminal records further exacerbate the situation, limiting or eliminating their access to jobs, housing, education and much more. The result is a growing number of people whose ability to be truly rehabilitated is limited, making the likelihood of recidivism (re-arrests) that much greater.
We are not for a moment suggesting that those who break the law should be given a free pass. We are asking whether traditional punishments fit the crime, and whether that is best for the defendants and for society as a whole.
Research from the National Institute of Justice, an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, confirms that drug courts can lower recidivism rates and significantly lower costs, as has been seen here in Luzerne County.
Since its inception 12 years ago, the county’s drug court has graduated 195 people, and there are about 60 participants in the program, which is accredited by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
To put that number into perspective, Luzerne County’s Drug Task Force made 176 arrests in 2017 alone, according to statistics released earlier this year by DA Stefanie Salavantis.
The DA’s office and county court system deserve kudos for their efforts so far, as do those who have successfully graduated and turned their lives around.
We can only hope that as time goes on, even more defendants will be able to participate.
— Times Leader