Lots of people think Obama hasn’t changed anything on the drug war front (Bill Maher is one of them, but who can blame him – drug policy isn’t exactly hot media stuff). But it turns out that PolitiFact is giving Obama a “promise kept” on this one. They write, “(T)he administration has supported drug courts, which allow low-level drug offenders to have their charges dropped if they successfully complete a court-monitored treatment program.”
Thus we have the “drug courts” which operate mostly at the state and local level.
There are approximately 2,700 drug courts. The administration estimates that we are now sending about 120,000 people to treatment instead of jail. That’s a lot of drug users who would have been languishing in jail, where they don’t get help and often don’t belong. President Obama requested $13 million more for drug courts and treatment in 2013 than he did in 2012.
Rafael Lemaitre, spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, pointed out that in the “last fiscal year, the Obama administration spent $10.4 billion on drug prevention and treatment programs compared with $9.2 billion on domestic drug enforcement.”
Compared to traditional criminal justice system processing, treatment and other investment costs averaged $1,392 lower per drug court participant. Reduced recidivism and other long-term program outcomes resulted in public savings of $6,744 on average per participant (or $12,218 if victimization costs are included).
Overall, according to the Justice Department, we’ve had a decline in prison inmates every year for the past three years.
The drug problem started really plaguing our courts and jails back in the ’80’s. Under Bush, we had the big push on the War on Drugs, also known as the War on Drug Users because so many offenders ended up in jail, clogging the system and overcrowding the jails.
In 2007, then candidate and Senator Obama promised to do something about it, namely to send first-time drug offenders to rehab over jail. He wanted to treat the drug war more as a public health issue than a law enforcement issue. This makes sense since there is little correlation between the amount of money we spend on controlling drugs and actual drug usage.
In fact, the Obama Administration’s inaugural National Drug Control Strategy, published in May 2010, represented a new direction in what used to be called the war on drugs.
In a speech at the World Federation Against Drugs in Sweden, R. Gil Kerlikowske, Director of U.S. National Drug Control Policy, explained the Obama administration’s “third way” approach to drug control (as opposed to the “war on drugs” or blanket legalization), “(T)he Obama Administration supports a “third way” approach to drug control—one that is based on the results of a huge investment in research from some of the world’s preeminent scholars on disease of substance abuse.”
Along those lines, the Administration required that insurers offer coverage for substance use disorder treatment services in ObamaCare. Pragmatic and humane — that’s just what you get with the Obama administration. Conservatives won’t like it because punishment is an important part of their world view. Certainly punishment has its place, but when that punishment does nothing but cost taxpayers money, it seems obvious that we needed a new approach; one that gives drug addicts a chance to recover, and does not clog our courts and jails with drug offenders.
The drug courts mostly apply locally and on the state level because the majority of federal drug offenders wouldn’t be elgible for the drug court program due to the seriousness of their offense.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out for Bill Maher that if we legalized medical marijuana we’d have even less people in jail. Seriously.
For more on the Obama Administration’s drug control policies, click here.