One of the great societal debates we have is whether the criminal justice system should aim to punish those who commit crimes or rehabilitate them. When it comes to chronic, hard-core drug addicts, with repeat offences for burglary the choice is clear: rehabilitation is a better track.
This may sound counterintuitive, until you look at the evidence. The Calgary Drug Treatment Court has been in operation since 2007 launched by Justice James Ogle, who I spoke to last week. From its inception, the court has targeted the most prolific offenders: Some who had been convicted over 100 times. When accepted in to the program, each offender is required to report to the court on a weekly basis, pass a drug and alcohol test, get a job, integrate into the community. If they have a good week, they get to draw a prize from a bucket as a reward. After a year to 18 months of success, they graduate from the program. Then they try to stay out of prison. And for the most part, they succeed.
A recent report on recidivism for 36 graduates of the program shows some stunning results. There is no doubt the benefits outweigh the costs.
The Calgary drug court was established with a budget of $500,000 a year, but it lost a substantial part of its budget in the last year when the federal government changed its funding. They’ve been able to maintain their case load, which is about 25 offenders at any given time, but they do have a waiting list of those who want to get in.
On the other side of the equation, it costs about $117,000 a year to house inmates in federal prison. Some of these offenders would have faced up to three years in jail for the types of crime they committed. In addition, the average addict was spending $2000 a week to feed their habit – meaning they were stealing five times that amount in goods to be able to get enough on the black market to pay for their drugs. When an offender like this goes clean it means less stolen property, less police booking, less court time, less jail time, less probation time. The cost savings for even one success story would probably pay the cost of the drug court for an entire year.
The good news is, the success rate is higher than that. Of the 36 graduates, in the two years after graduation from the program, 25 had no new criminal convictions. Before the program, this group of offenders had 1,279 convictions – after the program it was only 62.
It isn’t a perfect record, but the program pays for itself, not only in dollars spent but in lives saved. Last year Global News interviewed Randy, one of the successful grads, about how the program changed his path in life: “When I think of all the good things I could have done in life, as opposed to all the bad things I’ve done in life? … I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”
The full interview with Justice James Ogle is below.