Newly elected Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia seems to have a great adviser in his son on drug and alcohol addiction. We are all for locking up violent creeps, but sitting in prison does nothing but cost money. Please, we know addiction all too well. A few days or weeks does some good, but much more than that hasn’t helped many addicts.
From the AJC:
In recent days, both Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston have dropped not-so-subtle hints that Georgia can no longer afford to lock up so many of its people. Or, at least, so many of the wrong people.
Some of the first words out of Deal’s mouth as governor last week touched on the cost of crime and punishment. “One out of every 13 Georgia residents is under some form of correctional control,” he said in his inaugural address. “It costs about $3 million per day to operate our Department of Corrections.”
The governor spoke carefully. Law enforcement ranks are still fuming over the December death of Trooper Chadwick LeCroy, allegedly killed by a miscreant who had skated through the judicial system 18 times.
Violent men and women will be kept behind bars, the new governor promised. But we need to rethink the costs of locking up others. Nonviolent drug offenders, for instance.
Hall County Superior Court Judge Jason Deal, right, who administered the oath of office to his father on Monday, also runs the county’s drug court. AP/John Bazemore
“As a state, we cannot afford to have so many of our citizens waste their lives because of addictions,” Deal said. “It is draining our state treasury and depleting our work force.”
Georgia has roughly 53,000 people under lock and key — a higher proportion of its population than all but seven other states. Those whose principal offense is possession of cocaine, crack or methamphetamine number 1,500 by themselves.
Look for the governor to propose a statewide expansion of drug courts that emphasize treatment rather than prison.
As for the source of Deal’s inspiration, cast your eyes no further than the man who administered his oath of office: Hall County Superior Court Judge Jason Deal, the governor’s 42-year-old son, who runs one of Georgia’s 28 drug courts.
“I would come home and tell stories about what I’d seen,” Jason Deal said in an interview. “If you don’t believe in miracles, just come see drug court for a day. You’ll leave believing in miracles. When [drug offenders] start getting clean and being held accountable and having to work, they’re whole life changes. They become law-abiding citizens who work every day and support their kids. That should be the goal of our justice system.”
The phrase “drug court” is something of a misnomer — because to enter, you first have to plead guilty.
Participants are required to have a job and pay the costs of the program. Random testing for drug use is constant. Upon completion of a two-year program of addiction treatment and counseling, the felony conviction is erased.
Violations and backsliding are punished with community service and jail time. The key, Jason Deal said, is presenting participants with immediate consequences for their actions.
Think, he said, of the normal bureaucratic path a criminal takes.
“Somebody commits a crime, they get arrested and they go bond out. It may be a year before they have to face the consequences of their act. That’s terrible when you think about behavior modification,” Jason Deal said.