An article in the Rome New Tribune on May 28, “Budget Cuts Deep for Alternative Sentencing Programs,” reported that the Georgia Legislature is considering deep cuts to the relatively new accountability courts in the state. This would tear most, if not all, current drug and mental health court participants from their employment and families and send them back into an already overburdened prison system.
As the chairman of the Floyd Court Drug Court Advisory Board, I feel I must speak out against this foolhardy action. Accountability courts reduce jail population and rehabilitate offenders with drug addictions and mental health issues. Incarceration has never proven to cause a reduction in recidivism among this group of offenders. Drug Courts have consistently proven to significantly reduce recidivism.
By placing the person in the 18- to 24-month treatment program, these offenders earn income, pay taxes and support their families, taking numerous children off of government aid. They also pay program fees to the state to help defray the costs of the program. According to a study by the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute, 1,700 graduates in alternative sentencing programs contributed roughly $38.2 million into the state coffers in 2017 (as mentioned in the article).
According to the Georgia Department of Corrections website, the average cost for housing a medium security inmate is $51.34 per day and $523.59 per day for medical holding facilities (which is where many of the mental health court participants may be housed). Drug Court participants must have at least 2 to 3 years left on their sentence to participate in the program. So, at the very least, the cost of incarcerating one drug court participant is $37,478.20 for just the minimum of two years. The cost for a mental health court participant would be far greater. Multiply that by an average of 30 participants at any given time in the Floyd County Drug Court and the incarceration cost savings is well over $1 million. Multiply that across the state!
The math is quite simple. Would this state rather pay the $50 to $500 per day to incarcerate an individual or reap the benefits of having that individual supporting their families, paying taxes and reducing the chance of reoffending in a strongly significant way?
This is also a matter of looking farther than the end of one’s nose. By continuing to invest in programs that rehabilitate and reduce recidivism instead of the revolving door prison system, the state reduces its costs every year into the future and that number grows exponentially every time a person completes the program and a new offender is brought in.