Drug courts save lives, tax dollars
By Jim Ramstad - 06/14/11

Nine years before I was elected to Congress for the first of nine terms, I woke up from my last alcoholic blackout in a jail cell, under arrest for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. I am alive and sober today - almost 30 years later - only because I had access to treatment for my alcoholism. The same access drug courts provide every day across America.

Drug courts not only save lives; they save taxpayer dollars, reduce crime and recidivism, and address the alarming epidemic of addiction among our veterans returning from war.

The most conservative studies show for every dollar invested in drug courts, $27 is saved on healthcare, welfare and foster care costs, emergency room visits, property losses and criminal justice costs.

Also, as the Conference of Chief Justices declared recently, drug courts are the most effective strategy for reducing drug use and criminal recidivism. It’s a fact that 75 percent of drug court graduates remain arrest-free, compared to 30 percent of offenders released from prison.

Drug courts also need to be available for our brave veterans ravaged by PTSD and chemical addiction. A recent study by the military showed 1 in 4 returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan has a substance abuse disorder. Abuse of prescription drugs is exploding among veterans as they seek to counter the pain of combat.

As I have attended numerous drug court graduations, I am in awe at the lives restored, families reunited and little children returned to their parents. Drug courts are a shining example of the federal government using limited resources to attain maximum results. Or as one judge put it, "Drug courts are the most successful justice reform in our lifetime."

Drug courts might also be the only issue in Washington with true bipartisan support. When was the last time Newt Gingrich and Al Franken agreed on anything? Or as former Drug Czar Bill Bennett, who has never been accused of being anything but a "die-hard" conservative put it, "In drug courts, America has found not only a solution to an important public policy problem, it has hit yet again upon an essential truth – the power of personal responsibility and accountability."

Because I fully realize the monumental task before Congress facing the mind-boggling deficit and debt, I ask, "How much longer can we continue to spend $60 billion a year building more prisons with minimal return on investment compared to drug courts?"

This is the very same question I intend to ask on July 19, 2011, when thousands of drug court professionals, drug court graduates, celebrities, veterans and countless other drug court supporters and concerned citizens will come together on Capitol Hill for a large rally in Upper Senate Park.

Together, we will show Congress and the nation the strong and widespread bipartisan support for our nation’s 2,400 drug courts. We will also recognize and celebrate the many representatives and senators who have already stood up to show their support for this proven budget solution.

I respectfully urge all senators and representatives to support funding drug courts at least at the same level as last year. Your support will save lives and taxpayer dollars, reduce crime and recidivism, and provide our brave veterans the treatment and care they have earned.

Jim Ramstad (R-MN) was a member of Congress from 1991-2009. He served on the House Ways and Means Committee, Judiciary Committee and Select Committee on Narcotics and co-chaired the Addiction Treatment and Recovery Caucus. Ramstad is currently a Senior Policy Advisor for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.