Oklahoma, like many other states, struggles with overcrowded prisons and with budgetary concerns for keeping those prisons running efficiently. The state also struggles with a high rate of drug addiction, which combined with Oklahoma's tough drug laws, only exacerbates the problem of prison overcrowding.
One solution that is demonstrating some success is the Oklahoma drug court system. Designed to nonviolent offenders an alternative to prison, and to reduce recidivism by treating drug abuse, Oklahoma drug courts are available in 71 of the state's 77 counties. According to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) website, one third of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections inmates were incarcerated for drug and alcohol offenses.
At least half "were incarcerated for a crime related to substance abuse." With our prisons packed with nonviolent offenders whose addictions were at least partly responsible for their crimes, it becomes clear that alternative solutions are necessary.
As many Oklahoma drug attorneys know, their clients do not belong in prison, but need treatment and counseling to fight their demons and become productive members of society. Being locked behind bars does not end the substance abuse that led to incarceration in the first place; in many cases, it allows the destructive behaviors to continue.
The ODMHSAS says, "Putting people with mental illness or addiction behind bars is not effective in either reducing crime or helping these individuals recover from their illness. The fact is that treatment works. Non-violent offenders would be better served, economically and medically, with treatment in their communities." Because statistics show that drug abuse treatment and rehabilitation reduces recidivism, Oklahoma drug courts were born.
Since the establishment of the state's first drug court in Payne County in 1995, Oklahoma drug courts have given nonviolent offenders the opportunity to participate in a highly-structured, court-supervised treatment program rather than going to prison.
Violent offenders are not eligible for drug court, nor are trafficking charges eligible. Some courts also prohibit drug manufacturing and drug distribution charges. Drug court is not just for defendants who have been charged with drug crimes. Rather, many nonviolent felony offenders are eligible for this alternative if they admit to a substance abuse problem.
Clearly, most convicted offenders appreciate the opportunity to avoid jail, even if it means strict probation and random drug testing. However, nonviolent felony offenders are not the only ones who benefit from Oklahoma drug courts. Supporters of drug courts point to the cost-saving measures of treatment over incarceration.
The ODMHSAS reports the following statistics regarding the cost of treatment:
- The average cost of housing an inmate is $48/day. The average cost of providing substance abuse services to prevent them from entering the criminal justice system is less than $15/day.
- The annual cost of incarceration in the state Department of Corrections is $19,000 per person. The average cost of an individual's participation in drug court is $5,000/year.