HIGHTOWER: Common Sense Drug Policy

Just as volcanic eruptions are earth-shattering, every now and then we get an eruption of common sense from high government officials. It's so surprising that, when it occurs, we should take notice and cheer.

So here's a "hip-hip hooray!" for Chief Judge Judith Kaye of New York. The judge recently ruled that state courts there will become the first in the nation to provide medical treatment rather than jail time to non-violent criminals who are drug addicts. This ruling blows apart the rock-bound, draconian drug policies imposed by a generation of opportunistic politicians trying to look "tough" by throwing ill people into prisons.

Judge Kaye's breakthrough order is based on pilot programs in New York and elsewhere that have proven addiction treatment to be remarkably successful at reducing the number of people who commit crimes like prostitution to support their drug addictions. The New York Times reports that court-required treatment is a success in 70 percent of cases. Indeed, in New York City's treatment program, 88 percent of offenders who participated were not arrested again. They get a chance to break the cycle of drugs, crime, and prison -- enabling them to lead productive lives and restore their families.

Not only is this of obvious benefit to the participants, but it's also a break for us taxpayers. In New York, for example, the state spends $29,000 a year to keep each and every one of these addicts in a prison cell. It costs about $650 million a year in New York to imprison these people, while treatment costs only about $100 million. Even much of that amount gets paid back, however, since these addicts are no longer on the streets costing us in police actions --instead they are in jobs and paying taxes.

This is Jim Hightower saying . . . Now, if only Judge Kaye's sensible approach to drug-policy issues would trigger even a minor tremor of common sense in the head of Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey -- hey . . . then we'd really be making progress!

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