Burden is on its advocates to make a drug court successful

The devil is in the details. That’s our reaction to Morrison County’s plan to seek funding for a drug court.

Drug courts are designed as an alternative to prison time for those who are chemically addicted. Proponents claim that drug courts lower recidivism and thereby lower costs to the taxpayers.

But one can find plenty of voices on the other side who say those claims are exaggerated.

What’s obvious to anyone who reads the Record every week is that Morrison County has an ongoing drug problem. Turn to the “Courts and Crimes” page and invariably a majority of the articles are about people with drug and alcohol problems.

That said, the first obligation of government is to protect the lives and property of the law-abiding. Tossing a drug offender in prison works until the prisoner gets out but, because of the cost of incarceration, is the most expensive option.

If a drug court can help the addicts to break their habit without going to prison, everybody will win.

It seems to us that for a drug court to succeed, it will need a great commitment from the courts, law enforcement and the social service bureaucracy of the county. If it becomes just another grant, administered in the one-size-fits-all style of most government programs, it probably won’t work well. Not all addicts should be candidates. Those who show violent tendencies under the influence should be ineligible.

Choosing the recovery methods also matters. Some experts say programs that change the way an offender sees the world have a better chance of success than, for example, self-esteem programs.

Citizens have a right to hold those operating the drug court accountable. To gain the public’s trust, the drug court needs to be open about its success by avoiding sugarcoating its failures — and make no mistake, there will be some failures.

But if the drug court can save some lives, break some drug habits and reduce the number of people incarcerated, it may be worth trying as long as the safety of the public is not put in jeopardy. For those addicts who want to break the habit, it would be good to give them the help they need instead of coming with a “punish first” mentality.

It’s really up to all those involved and their proponents, not just the addicts, to prove with results that a drug court is worthy of funding.