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Drug Courts Worth the Cost, Report Says

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Times Staff Writer

Rehabilitating criminals by drug court rather than prison saves the state an estimated $18 million a year and dramatically reduces recidivism, according to a report presented Tuesday to the California Judicial Council.

With the future of drug courts clouded by the state budget crisis, judges said, the report should boost chances that the popular program in 157 courthouses statewide will be spared.

“By spending money on drug courts, we actually save money overall,” said Chief Justice Ronald M. George of the California Supreme Court.

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This fiscal year, the state is providing about $12 million to 47 counties to run drug courts, which are separate from Proposition 36 programs mandated by a 2001, voter-approved law.

That measure funnels drug offenders to treatment programs rather than prison; drug court handles repeat offenders, as well as those accused of non-drug crimes motivated by substance abuse.

Drug courts, which can provide more supervision of and support for defendants than Proposition 36 programs, judged about 16,000 offenders statewide last year, according to the Judicial Council, a policymaking arm of the state Supreme Court.

Los Angeles County has more than a dozen drug courts in places like downtown, Van Nuys, Pomona and Long Beach.

Drug court participants are subject to drug testing and frequent reviews, and judges have wide discretion to punish those who relapse.

Under Gov. Gray Davis’ proposed budget, drug court funding would be transferred to the counties, and revenues could come from higher cigarette, sales and income taxes. But judges fear those could be unstable funding sources.

The typical recidivism rate for drug-addicted criminals is about 80% to 85%, said Butte County Superior Court Judge Darrell Stevens, chairman of the Judicial Council committee that presented the report. But only 12% to 17% of drug court participants relapsed.


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