Friday, August 15, 2008

NPR Profiles Dallas DIVERT Court

Dallas County's DIVERT Court - one of the oldest drug courts in Texas led by Judge John Creuzot- was the subject of a flattering feature on NPR this morning by Wade Goodwyn that's well worth a listen. Goodwyn described the case of a young woman who failed a drug test while on probation, reporting that in response:

This is where the differences between the philosophy of DIVERT Court and the rest of the Texas criminal justice system become particularly apparent. Instead of kicking Stephens out of the program and sending her off to prison, Creuzot sent her to 45 days of intensive inpatient drug treatment.

Stephens says that changed her life.

Understanding just how close she was to a life of oblivion, Stephens dropped her know-it-all attitude and got serious about recovery. She's been sober ever since, with the drug tests to prove it.

Creuzot says what's different about DIVERT Court is the intense judicial oversight.

"A person who relapses on drugs needs further treatment. Our responses are research-driven," he says.

The statistics back him up. Two studies by Southern Methodist University show that DIVERT Court cuts the recidivism rate by 68 percent over the regular Texas criminal justice courts. For every dollar spent on the court, $9 are saved in future criminal justice costs.

Creuzot says the next step is to expand these courts to include perpetrators of property crimes and to raise the possession limits. Currently, if you're busted with two grams of cocaine, for example, that's too much to qualify. Creuzot would like to see DIVERT expanded beyond first-time offenders.

Creuzot operates his court on the principle that "repetition is the next door neighbor of repentance," and it's hard to argue with results he's produced. Indeed, the DIVERT Court's success and that of other "problem solving courts" has made them cause celebres among quite a few fiscally conservative Republicans looking to stem growing prison and jail costs, reports Goodwyn:

The courts have been so successful that even the tough-on-crime, Republican-dominated Texas Legislature approves.

Rep. Jerry Madden (R-Plano), chairman of the corrections committee, says that instead of worrying about the expanding outflow from prison, he wants to choke off the inflow with DIVERT-type courts.

"We have 157,000 people in the prisons of Texas — that's a lot," he says.

The expanding prison population is a financial red stain spreading across the state's books like the Andromeda Strain, he says. Each new maximum security prison costs Texas taxpayers $300 million to build and $40 million a year to operate.

State officials estimate that unless changes are made, Texas will need 17,000 more prison beds just four years from now. Releasing prisoners on parole is politically untenable — which makes "diversion" an increasingly appealing way to avoid what's looking like a $2 billion invoice.

See Also: Judge Creuzot's website, an evaluation of DIVERT Court recidivism results (pdf), and the cost-benefit analysis by SMU professors (pdf) that found the $9 savings for every dollar spent.


Anonymous said...

Why so many new beds in four years of we had zero growth last year?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

They're citing the figure LBB came up with estimating new beds BEFORE the Lege spent $200 million new dollars on diversion programs. If the Lege continues to fund treatment options, supposedly that number will flatline over the same period.

Anonymous said...

Well, maybe they can put another $200 million into diversion (less than the cost of a new jail), and populations will continue to decrease.

That might make too much sense though.

Anonymous said...

Lucky for defendant Stevens, if she had been in Bexar County she would never have had a negative drug test and would be in TDC as I write this.
Treatment Associates lab in San Antonio is a joke and the chief probation officer has done nothing about it!!!!! He should be fired and all the judges sould be replaced for allowing it to continue. *********

Anonymous said...

In Austin, the Drug Court judge has taken a similar approach for at least the last 15 years. I don't know his current stats, but he was having excellent results by taking a personal interest in the outcomes of treatment and the involvement of family with juveniles facing drug charges.