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Published: Saturday, 5/24/2014


Compelling court

Drug courts, including dozens across Ohio, have proven efficient and cost-effective

Drug courts promote recovery for addicts, and cost taxpayers much less than jailing abusers for the crimes they commit to feed their habits. A drug court is overdue in Toledo.

In drug courts, a specialized docket manages typically nonviolent offenders who have committed drug-related crimes. Instead of going to prison, offenders enroll in a stringent program that includes mandatory drug tests, treatment, supervision by a probation officer, and regular court appearances.

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Toledo City Council member Jack Ford proposes that Lucas County Common Pleas Court assign one judge to handle all nonviolent drug cases. If the program were successful, it could help make drug courts a statewide initiative.

National studies show that 80 percent of drug offenders who do not participate in a drug court or similar program commit more crimes and are returned to jail or prison. Only about 10 percent of offenders who have gone through a drug court are locked up again.

Incarceration alone has been shown to have little effect on addicts. But by addressing their addiction directly, offenders can often remove themselves from the revolving prison door.

Ohio has a drug crisis; at least 200,000 Ohioans are addicted to opioids, including heroin. It is more important than ever to help reclaim lives before they are lost to crime and addiction.

Ohio should follow the lead of states that have permanent drug courts. In 2012, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation that will make drug courts mandatory statewide by 2016 for drug-dependent, nonviolent offenders.

Drug courts have proven cost-effective in municipalities, including dozens throughout Ohio. The state spends $1.5 billion a year on prisons. The annual cost to lock up an inmate in Ohio is $25,000 to $30,000. Drug courts can cost as little as $3,000 for each participant.

“Toledo loses millions of dollars from drug addiction,” Mr. Ford told The Blade. Such costs are measured in lost productivity, criminal prosecutions and incarceration, and thefts and other crimes committed to support drug habits.

The personal toll is also costly. Drug courts enable offenders to obtain high school degrees and jobs, restore family ties and be reunited with their children, do volunteer work, attend treatment meetings, and get personal counseling.

The programs aren’t easy; part of what makes them so successful is the accountability they require. But those who take part get a second chance — without a felony conviction on their record — to move their lives onto a positive path and assume productive roles in society.

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