One of the few bright spots in the Governor Pat McCrory’s policy agenda outlined last February in his first State of the State speech was his call for state lawmakers to restore funding to the state’s drug treatment courts.
With virtually no explanation, McCrory’s Republican colleagues in the General Assembly ended state funding for the courts when they took over control of the legislature in 2011. In 2012 they cut funding for the treatment services the courts provided.
McCrory asked lawmakers last year to re-establish the drug courts and his budget called for $7.2 million to pay for it. Legislative leaders completely ignored the request even though the courts had a proven track record of saving the state money and helping drug offenders get sober.
The intensive treatment program cost the state a few thousand dollars per participant, far cheaper than the roughly $30,000 it costs to keep someone in prison for a year. And it allowed the offenders to keep working, paying taxes and taking care of their families while going though the rigorous rehabilitative program.
There was little opposition to expanding the drug courts. They were supported by prosecutors and advocates for alternatives for incarceration alike. You would think that with McCrory weighing in, the funding would be restored—but it didn’t happen.
And McCrory doesn’t seem to want to try again. At his press conference this week he outlined a new initiative to reduce substance abuse at college campuses but didn’t mention the drug courts at all.
It’s not clear why state lawmakers refused to renew the investment in a program with a proven track record and widespread support or why McCrory is apparently unwilling to fight for it again, but it’s too bad.
The state could have saved millions of dollars and even more importantly, a lot of people could have had help turning their lives around.