Nation

Drug treatment saves N.Y. money

Shift from prison has had big effect, analysis finds

NEW YORK — The state saves money when a judge sends a high-risk drug offender to treatment rather than prison, according to an independent cost-benefit analysis released Friday.

The study compared felony drug or property offenders enrolled in drug treatment in the years before and after the 2009 Rockefeller Drug Law reforms — which eliminated mandatory minimum prison sentences for most drug offenders and gave judges more leeway to order treatment diversion programs.

‘‘It’s one thing to give judges the discretion to send people to treatment, but it’s another thing to change actual behavior,’’ said Greg Berman, executive director of the Center for Court Innovation, a New York City nonprofit that wrote the report with Portland, Ore.-based NPC Research. ‘‘What the study shows is that, lo and behold, they have.’’

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The study focused on so-called high-risk offenders who, while nonviolent at the time of arrest, have more extensive criminal histories and are considered to be at a higher risk for future criminal behavior.

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When judges send these types of offenders to specialized drug courts for treatment, the state will save $5,144 per offender, the study shows. When victimization costs are included, that number rises to $13,284 per offender.

The study looked at defendants in all 62 counties in New York state. It found that in the year after the law went into effect, court-ordered treatment enrollment increased by 77 percent — from 1,801 to 3,192 participants. Some places increased by more than 200 percent, while in other places, there was not much difference.

New York has a system of 92 drug courts spread across 61 counties, while prosecutor-run Drug Treatment Alternatives-to-Prison programs operate in 10 counties. Eleven counties created specialized judicial diversion parts in response to the reforms, the report says.

In 2010, the year after the reforms went into effect, of the 57,279 total inmates in state custody, 10,677 felons were incarcerated for either drug sale or possession, according to the state correctional data.

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It costs $45,516.37 in state operating dollars to house each inmate, according to state correctional data for the fiscal year 2011-12.

The study did not look at recidivism rates specifically, but it drew on data from a companion study that found a reduction in recidivism rates three years after their cases have been heard compared with similar offenders who didn’t go through drug court.