September is recognized as National Recovery Month. It is an opportunity to educate Americans on behavioral health issues and addiction, to honor people in recovery, and to recognize treatment providers. Recovery from chemical and behavioral health issues enable us, our families, and our neighbors to live law abiding, healthy, and rewarding lives.
Chemical and behavioral health is essential to public safety and the overall health of our community. Without question, the abuse of drugs and alcohol is linked to criminal behavior. Prevention, treatment and sustained recovery can break that link. People can, and do, recover.
In 2000, Rice County was identified as one of the deadliest counties in Minnesota, with 531 DWIs and 20 fatalities on our roads. In 2012, those numbers had dropped to one alcohol related traffic death and 264 DWIs. That is still too many, but a huge improvement. Many people worked tirelessly to bring about changes in attitudes and dynamics in regard to drinking and driving in Rice County.
We made a difference in our DWI problem by deliberately addressing it and applying solutions that worked. It is time to do the same in addressing crimes related to addiction. The abuse of drugs and alcohol goes far beyond traffic offenses, and is often associated with robbery, assault, rape, burglary, theft, murder, arson and hate crimes.
Incarceration has had little impact in reducing addictions and promoting recovery. 80% of offenders abuse drugs or alcohol; nearly 50% of inmates are clinically addicted; and, approximately 60% of individuals arrested for most types of crimes test positive for drug use at arrest.
Inmates with mental and chemical health issues are confined with limited access to treatment and sustained recovery. For many in the criminal justice system, re-arrest is almost impossible without recovery. Financially, the situation is expensive; from a public safety perspective, the situation is ineffective.
While prevention and keeping people out of the criminal justice system is preferred, efforts toward sustained recovery of those already in the system should be examined. Drug court programs have been developed across the country, targeting both adult and juvenile offenders, as well as family, DWI, and Veterans’ specific issues.
Drug Courts are judicially-supervised court dockets that strike a proper balance between: public safety and public health; and between the need for treatment and the need for accountability.
It is estimated that Drug Courts save taxpayers from $4,000 - $12,000 per defendant. Reduced prison costs, reduced repeat arrests and trials, and reduced victimization contribute to these savings.
Recovery from alcohol and drug addictions is a complex and dynamic process. It is a process of change, individually motivated, with external support. We all recognize the grave impact of chemical abuse in Rice County – from overdose deaths to property crimes to traffic offenses to domestic violence. Yet we now know that many mired in the criminal justice system can break the link between addiction and crime – with treatment and sustained recovery.
A local coalition has applied for funding to establish a drug court in Rice County. It will present an opportunity for some in our criminal justice system to return to a healthy and productive life. Recovery can transform an individual’s life, but that one transformation can impact an entire community.