Arizona Study Shows Drug Treatment Cuts Crime

Affiliate: ACLU of Arizona
April 21, 1999 12:00 am

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PHOENIX, AZ — Arizona’s voter-approved program of sentencing nonviolent, first- and second-time drug offenders to treatment rather than prison reduces crime and saves tax money, according to a state Supreme Court study.

The report, issued yesterday by the Arizona Supreme Court, estimated that the state’s new program saved more than $2.5 million in its first fiscal year of operation, and looks to reap greater savings in the future, according to the New York Times. The results of this study come as the nation’s prisons and jails overflow with 1.8 million inmates, 400,000 of whom are addicted to drugs, the Times said.

“This outcome is not only cost effective, but literally saves people’s lives,” said Graham Boyd, special counsel on drug policy issues for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Treatment, as opposed to prison, reduces crime. Our goal is to make this same sort of treatment, unforced, available to people in need, upon request.”

The high court went on to say that the “intervention reveals an increased quality of life conditions of the population such as improved family and social relationships, increased work productivity and wages, and decreased health system costs,” AP reported, noting that 78 percent of the participants later tested drug free.

The study also found that 77 percent of the participants made at least one of the required payments toward the cost of their treatment.

Chuck Blanchard, legal counsel with the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said of the study that drug treatment rather than prison “is a no-brainer” way to fight crime.

“If you really want to solve the crime problem, you have to deal with the treatment side,” the former Arizona lawmaker told AP.

The court looked at 2,622 drug offenders placed on probation and in county-run drug treatment programs from July 1997 to June 1998. There are five treatment programs varying in intensity and duration depending on the severity of an offender’s addiction and psychological problems.

“As it turns out, the (law) is doing more to reduce drug use and crime than any other state program — and saving taxpayer dollars at the same time,” Judge Rudy Gerber of the Arizona Court of Appeals in Tucson told AP.

However, the news service noted, the Supreme Court study didn’t fully gauge the success of treatment programs because it excluded recidivism rates. Court officials said they’ll look at those rates after the end of the current fiscal year.

Earlier this year when the White House introduced its public health initiative for drug control, the ACLU welcomed news reports indicating that the government wanted to expand treatment as alternatives to jail for drug users. However, the ACLU remains skeptical of the plan, saying that despite fanfare over the program, funds are lacking.

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