Boulder County Introduces New Drug Courts

Following a model championed by gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter when he was District Attorney of Denver, Boulder County officials have announced the formation of a drug court.  Created to handle cases dealing with drug possession and addiction, the new court hopes to end the revolving door many addicts ride between jail and the streets.“We expect that our outcomes are going to improve dramatically,” said Boulder District Judge Roxanne Bailin in Monday’s Rocky Mountain News. “Our success rates in obtaining long-term sobriety aren’t great. We want to improve the lives of families and the community at large, and to increase public safety.”

As prison sentences become longer, mandatory minimums become more harsh, and “three strikes” laws continue to fill Colorado’s overcrowded jails, cash-strapped counties and local prosecutors are looking everywhere for alternatives for their non-violent offenders.

Larimer County has implemented a similar program, and The Rocky talked to Larry Abrahamson, Larimer’s District Attorney:

He counts the system a success. Roughly 30 percent of those put into drug court in Larimer County graduate 12 or 18 months later. That compares with a relapse rate of about 85 percent for addicts in the regular court system, Abrahamson said.

The upfront costs are more because of all the court appearances, he said. “But there’s going to be savings to the community – in what the person is able to produce, in saving the family, in getting a job and staying out of trouble.”

But do these courts actually work?

Shortly after the mid-90s, when Denver County implemented a Drug Court, the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice released an initial evaluation of the Denver Program.

As the reports executive summary says:

Overall, the first two years of Drug Court operation [in Denver] appeared to have a positive impact on my drug offenders and perhaps on the larger criminal justice system.

We’ll just have to wait and see on how it works in Boulder. 

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Paul Preston

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