Washington, DC – With America’s prison population continuing to rise and municipalities across the country struggling to keep up with the high cost of our criminal justice system, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) today held a hearing in his Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism to examine alternative law enforcement approaches. The hearing, which featured testimony from acclaimed actor Martin Sheen and Chief Judge Jeanne LaFazia of the Rhode Island District Court, among others, examined the success and cost-effectiveness of special drug and veterans treatment courts in rehabilitating low-level offenders and protecting public safety.
“Drug and veterans courts are providing successful, cost-effective, alternatives to traditional criminal courts by treating the underlying cause of criminal behavior and helping our veterans and citizens struggling with drug abuse become productive members of their communities,” said Whitehouse, who fought successfully during his time as Rhode Island’s Attorney General to establish the state’s first drug court. “At a time when tight budgets require us to deploy resources as efficiently as possible, it is vital that we implement cost effective solutions that protect public safety.”
Drug courts require participants to commit to intensive substance abuse treatment programs, frequent court appearances, and regular random testing for drug use. Individuals going through drug courts are rewarded for doing well, but sanctioned if they do not satisfy the obligations imposed by the court. Studies by the Department of Justice and the Government Accountability Office have shown that drug courts reduce recidivism, lower crime, and save money.
“My first exposure to Drug Courts opened my eyes to the incredible capacity of human beings to change. I have seen individuals mired in the deepest depths of addiction transformed by Drug Courts,” said Sheen. “From saving money to saving lives, from eliminating racial disparities to protecting public safety, from cutting crime to restoring families, from coming to the aid of our veterans to stopping impaired drivers, this is a budget solution that we cannot afford to cut.”
In recent years, some jurisdictions have also developed special courts for treating military veterans. These courts, frequently based on the drug court model or operating within drug courts, recognize that low-level offenses by military veterans are often linked to complications from combat related trauma, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Rhode Island has started such a pilot program for veterans who enter the criminal justice system. The program, led by Chief Judge LaFazia, works to identify and address the underlying cause of criminal behavior by referring veterans to treatment programs or providing other alternatives that can keep them out of jail and help them to lead safer, more productive lives, while protecting public safety. Earlier this year U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder joined Senator Whitehouse in Rhode Island to learn more about the program.
“We need to implement programs which will allow us to address the unique challenges which veterans face and which will allow us to provide them with the tools and insight needed to become whole again – to reintegrate successfully into society. Veterans Courts are a ‘problem-solving courts,’” said Chief Judge LaFazia.
Also testifying at today’s hearing were Benjamin B. Tucker, Deputy Director of State, Local and Tribal Affairs for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; Douglas B. Marlowe, Chief of Science, Law and Policy for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals; and David Muhlhausen, Research Fellow in Empirical Policy Analysis for the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis.