Justice and Redemption: Government spending that saves government money

Posted October 8, 2012 3:39 p.m. EDT
Updated October 8, 2012 11:38 p.m. EDT

We rarely produce a documentary on a topical issue related to our legislature or our criminal justice system that doesn't generate strong opposing opinions. Our documentary, "Justice and Redemption," about our state’s Drug Treatment Courts is an exception. We did not personally encounter, hear about or read about anyone who thinks they are a bad idea. The criminal justice and substance abuse treatment professionals we spoke with support Drug Treatment Courts and editorial writers across the state have lauded them.

There’s good reason. They save lives and they save the state a lot of money.

We profiled Calvin Harris in the documentary. After 30 years as an addict, committing dozens of crimes to support his habit and going to prison five times, Harris was facing 11 years in prison, but was offered the option of Drug Treatment Court instead. He graduated from the program in 2006 and has kept both himself and his criminal record clean ever since. With the average cost of keeping an inmate in prison at $28,000 a year, that’s more than $300,000 saved by keeping just one offender out a prison. Drug Treatment Courts helped 180 drug-addicted offenders kick the habit last year, saving the state millions of dollars in incarceration costs and helping turn criminals into productive citizens who can contribute to the economy and pay taxes.

The state saved $2 million by cutting funding for Drug Treatment Courts. It will likely spend many millions more than that on the people who may end up in prison, the people who will repeatedly pass through the court system and the babies born to drug addicted mothers as a result. As District Court Judge Mark Galloway rhetorically asked, “How is that fiscally conservative?”