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Drug Courts

Georgia’s Budget Solution: Drug Courts

All Rise:  We all rise when a Drug Court guides the offender past the chaos and wreckage and toward recovery.

“Drug Courts Work for Many Defendants, and They Cut Costs”

Guest Column in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jan. 13, 2011

By Judge Jeffrey Bagley, Chief Judge, Forsyth Superior Court

Brookelyn is the mother of four children; the last was delivered while she was in state custody shackled to a hospital bed at Grady Memorial Hospital.

Brookelyn, a drug addict, was already on probation when she was arrested and charged with felony drug possession, which could have resulted in 20 years of incarceration for a probation revocation and another 15 years on the new charge.

Instead, Brookelyn was allowed to enter the Forsyth County Drug Court Program where she completed three years of judicially supervised, intensive treatment, all while being closely monitored and drug-screened throughout.

During this period, Brookelyn came to realize that in order to be a responsible citizen and, more importantly, a responsible parent, she must stay clean and sober and stop trying to manipulate the system.

Drug courts work. I’ve been presiding over one since 2004. The drug court model calls for intensive judicial supervision over generally first offenders with no history of drug selling or violence as they receive an appropriate array of treatment and services, all while holding them strictly accountable for their behavior.

Drug and other accountability courts offer a chance at reform and redemption. The threat of prison is a strong incentive for participants to succeed.

If the drug court participant fails to follow the court-ordered plan and program, they know that prison is exactly where they will end up.

A recent report by the Georgia Department of Audits revealed that adult felony drug courts in Georgia offer better outcomes; specifically, lower recidivism rates, higher sobriety levels and much lower costs to Georgia taxpayers in that fewer people go to prison, more go on to work and more families remain intact.

I personally know that while drug courts require substantial resources in terms of staff and court time, it is worth that cost to provide an opportunity for certain criminal defendants to turn their lives around and become productive members of society.

Quoting a paper from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation: “Georgia’s criminal justice system is ripe for reform. In Georgia, about one adult in 13 is under some form of correctional control, either on probation or parole, or behind bars. This is the highest rate in the nation. The national average is one in 31. About one adult in 70 is behind bars in Georgia. The state spends more than $1 billion per year on housing approximately 60,000 inmates.”

Drug courts are part of the solution. The members of the Judicial Council Standing Committee on Drug Courts and I look forward to working with Georgia’s legislative and executive branches during this transition period to create more drug courts, improve our standards and collect more information about drug court efficacy.

Judge Jeffrey Bagley is chief judge and Superior Court judge of the Bell-Forsyth Circuit. Bagley recently was appointed as chair of the Judicial Council of Georgia Standing Committee on Drug Courts by Chief Justice Carol Hunstein of the Georgia Supreme Court.

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