Burl: Drug court saves lives, benefits our community

Published 12:03 am Saturday, May 11, 2019

A courtroom is not a place where you expect to find scenes of celebration and tears of joy — unless, of course, it’s drug court.

This May, drug courts throughout Louisiana will join more than 3,000 such programs nationwide in celebrating National Drug Court Month. This year alone, more than 150,000 individuals nationwide who entered the justice system due to addiction will receive lifesaving treatment and the chance to repair their lives, reconnect with their families and find long-term recovery.

National Drug Court Month is a celebration of the lives restored by drug court, and it sends the powerful message that these programs must be expanded to reach more people in need.

Nearly 30 years ago, the first drug court opened its doors with a simple premise: Rather than continue to allow individuals with long histories of addiction and crime to cycle through the justice system at great expense to the public, use the leverage of the court to keep them engaged in treatment long enough to be successful.

Today, drug courts and other treatment courts have proven that a combination of accountability and compassion saves lives, while also saving valuable resources and reducing exorbitant criminal justice costs. The 40th Judicial District Adult Drug Court last held its graduation in May and December of 2018.

After years of struggling with different addictions, such as alcoholism and substance abuse, a total of 16 clients were eventually arrested. While facing years in prison they had a chance to participate in the 40th Judicial District Adult Drug Court. 

Throughout the program they received rigorous treatment and counseling for their addiction and with the help and direction of the Drug Court, some returned back to college, some started their own business and some were able to purchase new homes.

But today, most importantly they returned as productive members of their communities while receiving treatment for their addictions.

This is just several of the thousands of individual stories that demonstrate why treatment courts are so critical in the effort to address addiction and related crime.

And the scientific research agrees: Numerous studies have found that treatment courts reduce crime and drug use and save money. Research shows treatment courts also improve education, employment, housing, financial stability and family reunification, which reduces foster care placements.

Treatment courts represent a compassionate approach to the ravages of addiction. This year’s National Drug court Month celebration should signal that the time has come to reap the economic and societal benefits of expanding this proven budget solution to all in need.

Albert “Ali” Burl III is drug court program director. He can be reached at 985-359-3315.