Too often we as legislators sit through two or three hour presentations on a given program and learn virtually nothing new. Either there’s nothing new out there or it’s presented in such a form as to render it incomprehensive.
That was certainly not the case this afternoon as an overflow group of state representatives listened to Dr. Douglas Marlowe, of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, for expanded drug courts in New Hampshire.
It was one of the rare cases of science made easy and then made relevant to the role of legislation.
Beginning with the science of the brain regarding what makes an addict (how the brain is receptive to certain drugs much more than food and sex), Dr. Marlowe went on to talk about low versus high risk individuals.
He presented four distinct categories (quadrants) of people and stressed how they should not be intermingled and how our treatment is often geared for precisely the wrong people.
The four are: addicts and high risk people; addicts and low risk people; non-addicts and high risk people; and non-addicts and low risk people.
Only those who fit into both the addict and high risk category are fit for drug court; and contrary to popular conception, the way to reach these people is NOT to punish severely for continued offenses. Quite the opposite; they need programs which offer increasingly severe penalties.
Obviously a top priority should be to make to assess people to make sure they are in the proper quadrants for treatment. Dr. Marlowe insisted it would take only an hour for such an assessment, well worth the time it seems to me.
Of course drug courts will be costly, but Dr. Marlowe suggested that by the second year, drug courts should save us $2.30 for every dollar spent. Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, noted what we all must have thought—boy, have we heard that line before—spend more now to realize savings which just never happen later.
My suggestion was that since these individuals are in court, they are to be penalized (fined) by the very nature of their offense, and they should bear any additional costs of court proceedings.
Some in the audience scoffed at that idea, noting that they can’t afford such costs. To that I say—they certainly could afford it more by getting back into society and getting a job rather than going away to prison for a year or two.
All in all, it was two and a half hours very well spent.
If there’s a way to get a similar presentation on line, available to all, I’ll publicize it. Many thanks to Dr. Marlowe, Rep. Laurie Harding (D-Lebanon), and Chief Justice Nadeau for the most informative afternoon.
Perhaps the best part of the presentation was testimony from a graduate of Strafford County drug court (Chris), a personal story that brought everything home with much more impact, including how he came from a broken home with alcoholic parents. Noting that he currently has three degrees and three jobs, he made my point pefectly well; he could certainly afford to pay back to the county whatever drug court had cost the system. Many others could as well. If that makes me sound hard-hearted, I'm sorry. I want to help people, but when they can pay for their own help, that's the way it should be.
As a new member of the Criminal Justice Committee, I found the presentation superb, but everyone could benefit from it. We need to stop spending so much money incarcerating people to the detriment not only of our finance but of the lives of useful members of society and their loved ones.
That should be the number one goal this year. To the extent that drug court is a part of the solution, we will be much better off, and I say that, of course, as a fiscal conservative. Being “tough on crime” is not necessarily bearing either smart on fiscally responsible on crime.