Observer staff

A story in this newspaper last week put the spotlight on one of the most unsung programs in our judicial system, and it is long past time that treatment courts secure the recognition they deserve.

The story concerned 53-year-old David Evans who entered the drug court program “on a bet” and now he is past 600 days sober.

Programs like the Union County treatment court aim to furnish longer-term treatment for non-violent illegal narcotics offenders. Often, the individuals who participate in treatment courts do so as an alternative to serving a long sentence behind bars.

Evans made it clear in The Observer story that although he had completed the treatment court, his challenges were not over. His fight to stay sober will be a life-long one but the treatment court provided him with a chance, and sometimes a chance is all people need.

A key question, though, is whether such programs — when framed against the bigger picture of the war on drugs — really work. The answer is, for the most part, yes.

Statistics show that more than 70 percent of treatment court graduates stay out of trouble with the law for at least two years after they graduate from the program. Overall, that means crime is reduced. Treatment courts also appear to sever crime by nearly 50 percent more than other judicial programs.

Yet what readers — taxpayers — really want to know is whether the cost is worth it. It seems to be. For every $1 invested in a treatment court attendee, the judicial system — and therefore taxpayers — save $3. Treatment courts also generate savings from $3,000 to $13,000 per person because that same individual will not be in state prison or languishing in a local jail waiting for a court date.

We can’t know for sure whether any person who participates in such programs will be successful. However, programs such as the treatment court not only offer savings but provide a proven program that doesn’t just answer the war on drugs question the same old way. Simply throwing people behind bars may be satisfying for those of us who believe in law and order, but the underlying cause — addiction — isn’t addressed. Instead, when individuals leave prison with their addiction issues not resolved, they face the same reoccurring dependence merry-go-round. Eventually many will end right back in jail. That costs you, the taxpayer, more money, and the problem isn’t solved.

As Americans, we desire swift answers to complex problems. You break the law, you go to jail. That kind of eye-for-an-eye justice works in some cases, but when it comes to helping offenders with serious addiction problems, it just kicks the issue down the road.

Treatment courts work — and they save taxpayers money.