On the front page of this paper, you will find a story about the effectiveness of drug courts and how taking a different approach to our judicial system could reduce America’s record-setting recidivism and incarceration rates.
The United States has 693 people out of every 100,000 behind bars, and the next closest country had just 145, according to a study by the Correctional Control. Not only is the country’s incarceration nearly five times higher than the next but 32 states and the District of Columbia have higher rates than the next country. America has a “lock them up and throw away the key” problem, and it’s startling. But there are ways to reduce crime that don’t involve throwing citizens in the slammer.
The recidivism rate for drug court participants is up to 26 percent lower than the average incarcerated individual, according to the National Institute of Justice. Drug court also saves taxpayers’ dollars on an average of $1,392 per person.
I’ve seen firsthand just how big a difference drug court can make in a person’s life and how it not only forces them to get clean, but it teaches life lessons. One of my best friends — we’ll call him Fred — was arrested about five years ago on a felony drug charge for possession of marijuana.
Since he was in high school, he had been smoking weed every day of his life. The majority of everyday users have it affect every aspect of their daily lives. I’ve seen countless friends from high school, including Fred, have a lack of drive and passion to better themselves. A lot of them either dropped out of college or went straight into working average jobs.
Fred was on that path for a while after high school. He worked a simple part-time job, lived with his parents and was perfectly content. But when he was entered into the drug court program, his whole life changed.
Every day he was required to call a number, and if the voice recording said his color he had to take a drug test that day. There was no bending the rules. There wasn’t an option to reschedule. Any absence from missing a test was the equivalent of failing one. He was also required to have a full-time job, and he landed a great job at a distribution warehouse that allowed him to save up money for school.
He learned that he had to be committed every minute of every day to better himself. He learned that being responsible for your own wellbeing is a must. And after he graduated drug court, he took those lessons he learned and attended an aircraft technician school where he developed a desirable skill that set up his entire future. He went from being a young adult with no purpose or direction to having everything he wanted at the tip of his fingers.
There are a lot of stories like Fred’s that come from the drug court program. Had it not been an option, he would’ve been sent to prison and wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn those things.
That’s why when I read our Editor and Publisher Charlie Smith’s article, I was thrilled to learn Mississippi wants to expand its program and add some other ones like it. Chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court Michael Randolph told the Rotary Club Tuesday that he wants to expand on the concept of drug courts and introduce mental health and veterans courts.
Mental health and protecting our veterans are two of the biggest areas America has a ton of room to improve. Mental health rears its ugly head in every mass shooting and every suicide that rocks communities to their core and affects more than most realize. And there are so many veterans that need help that the VA can’t handle alone. They are often left to fend for themselves while suffering from PTSD and physical ailments and can struggle to acclimate back into society.
Intervening in those two areas alone will not only better our society, but it could drastically reduce our nation’s insane incarceration numbers.
Joshua Campbell is sports editor of The Columbian-Progress. Reach him via email at email@example.com or call (601) 736-2611.