Friday, July 19, 2002

Advocates: UC study validates drug court

By Dan Horn,
and Spencer Hunt,
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        Drug users who pass through Ohio's drug courts are 15 percent less likely to repeat their offenses than those who don't go through the specialized courts, a new University of Cincinnati study has found.

        Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and other drug court supporters embraced the study Thursday as proof the courts are the most effective way to treat drug offenders.

        Drug courts, which emphasize treatment over punishment for first-time offenders, are under increased scrutiny because an initiative proposed for the November ballot would revamp the way Ohio handles drug users and would change the way drug courts operate.

        “Drug courts are making a positive difference in the lives of Ohioans,” said Mr. Taft, who opposes the ballot initiative. “This is the right way to break the cycle of addiction and crime.”

        Supporters of the ballot initiative also saw the UC study as validation. They say they are seeking to make drug treatment available to more offenders by creating a system that would effectively “make every court a drug court.”

        “The concept of drug courts is a good one,” said Ed Orlett, a former state legislator and an advocate of the initiative. “Every year in Ohio, more than 6,000 people are charged with felony drug abuse. For (most of) them, there is no drug court because there are none in their counties.”

        The UC study found that the 1,600 juvenile and adult drug users who were routed through drug court during the past year were 15 percent less likely to be arrested again than offenders who had no contact with drug court.

        “Drug courts hold more promise than traditional policies that rely on incarceration and stricter sentences,” UC researchers wrote in a summary of their study.

        In Hamilton County, home to the state's first full-time drug court, law enforcement officials said the study should quiet critics who have complained that a special court for drug offenders is unnecessary. Court officials say only 9 percent of offenders have committed new crimes since the program began in Hamilton County in 1996.

        The proposed ballot initiative — the Ohio Drug Treatment Initiative — would allow all eligible, nonviolent drug offenders to choose treatment over prison. Mr. Taft and others who oppose the initiative say it won't work because it limits the penalties that can be imposed on offenders who fail the drug program.

        In existing drug courts, offenders face jail time if they fail the program. But under the initiative, the penalties would be limited to 90 days for most offenders.

        “That's just not enough,” said Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen. “I think it would be an absolute disaster.”

        Drug courts, he said, offer the best combination of treatment and penalties.

        Marian Paola, administrator of Hamilton County's drug court, said the UC study suggests drug courts are doing just fine without the initiative.

        “I would hate to see the initiative come through and change everything,” she said.

        There are about 700 drug courts nationwide and 48 in Ohio.


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