Drug abuse is an epidemic here in Illinois and throughout the United States. Unfortunately, those who abuse drugs are often thrown in jail for crimes instead of being put into some kind of rehabilitation program.
For this reason, our jails are overcrowded with drug crime offenders, most of whom are there for nonviolent crimes. Then, once these offenders have been released, they’re likely to get caught committing the same crimes and sent back to jail because they haven’t really gotten the help they need.
There’s got to be better way to break the cycle of substance abuse and crimes here in our state.
Fortunately, Will County has a program available to men and women who have been convicted of crimes related to substance abuse. They are using a drug court program that replaces a felony record and prison time with 18 months of treatment, counseling, and support for addicts.
Not surprisingly, the drug court program and its results have been a hit.
Benefits of the Drug Court Program
Will County’s drug court program has been around for 15 years. Since its launch, hundreds of addicts have completed the program, most with excellent results.
Graduates of the drug court program are much less likely to reoffend. In fact, less than 10 percent of people who complete the program have reoffended.
This number is significant because, statewide, 45 percent of all offenders reoffend within three years of their release from jail. This means that nearly half of the current jail population will be back in jail in only a few years time.
And what about the money?
Every time an offender reoffends, the Illinois Department of Corrections pays close to $22,000 per inmate directly. But when you add in the costs of running a jail and providing for those employees, that cost per inmate rises to around $40,000. That means it costs Illinois taxpayers over $40,000 total in arrest, court, and prison costs.
That’s quite a bit of money we’re putting into a broken system.
If the Illinois Department of Corrections wants to have better results and cut costs, they should consider a statewide drug court program. It costs about $3,000 for someone to go through Will County’s 18-month program.
So instead of paying $40,000 for a first arrest and sentence, plus another $40,000 for when that inmate reoffends, totaling nearly $80,000, we could be paying $3,000 to get someone the help they need to be a productive member of society. Someone who most likely won’t reoffend and end up back in jail.
Why is there even a debate?
A Drug Court Graduate’s Story
Kristin Love, who is now 27, tried heroin when she was 16 and hid her addiction for six years. After a drug bust, she was arrested in a McDonald’s parking lot for possession and faced a felony criminal record along with jail time.
Love successfully completed the Will County drug court program, where she thrived. Not only did she receive treatment for her heroin addiction, she also volunteered, went back to school, and got her first job.
She said, “I think the longer I did those things, the more I built better feelings about myself — more confidence — and drugs weren’t so important anymore.”
Love was able to gain self-esteem and confidence throughout the program, which eventually lead to her pursuing legal studies and becoming a legal secretary for the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office – the same office that prosecuted her for drug possession.
Love is one of many successful graduates of the drug court program, which continues to prove again and again that it works. Perhaps if the entire state considered this program, we’d have less people in prison and more money to spend elsewhere.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, Murder, and drug crimes.