By Judge Alan R. Hancock
and Judge Vickie I. Churchill
Regarding Island County Deputy Sheriff Lane Campbell’s comments about Island County Drug Court:
At a recent forum, Campbell, a candidate for Island County Sheriff, stated that our drug court is ineffective. We disagree. By any reasonable and objective standard, our drug court is a cost-effective program that significantly reduces recidivism, or the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend.
The Washington State Department of Corrections calculates recidivism for all offenders at 32.2 percent during the three years following prison. Recidivism includes any felony offense that results in conviction. In contrast, Island County drug court graduates have a recidivism rate of 13.2 percent. That recidivism rate, 13.2 percent, is even more astounding because recidivism for the drug court program includes any felony conviction at any time after graduation from the drug court program, not just within three years.
The majority of persons admitted to our drug court program are charged with drug and property offenses. According to a rigorous study conducted by the Washington State Institute of Public Policy, drug offenders have a recidivism rate of 40.5 percent within 3 years after release from prison. Property offenders in the overall population have a 60.4 percent recidivism rate. The recidivism rate of Island County’s drug court graduates, even when recidivism is defined as a felony or misdemeanor conviction within three years, is much lower than either of these — 25.9 percent.
Drug court not only reduces recidivism, it saves taxpayers a lot of money. The Washington State Institute of Public Policy has concluded that adult drug court programs save taxpayers an average of $8,993 for every person who enters the program.
Consider also some of the stories of the Island County Drug Court program. One of the participants in drug court used to sleep in a tree; now she has a full time job, a safe place to live and friends who care about her. Another drug court participant fought back against this disease and now has an active, healthy and well-loved child.
Others have reconnected with their families who were worn out after so many years of trying to help their addicted son or daughter.
Many of the people who have graduated from drug court tell us, “This program saved my life.” Some people have not been successful with drug court, true, but these examples, along with the statistical information, prove that our drug court works.
Deputy Campbell states that our drug court program needs to be revamped, but does not suggest how. In point of fact, we constantly review our drug court procedures for maximum effectiveness. We commissioned several studies of our program, the most recent by Northwest Professional Consortium, all of which concluded that our program exceeds state standards. We would be glad to receive any suggestions from Deputy Campbell for improvements, but he has never contacted us with his concerns.
The prosecutor’s office screens persons who wish to participate in our drug court program, and not all persons are admitted. For those who choose to participate, our program provides intensive judicial supervision and case management for persons struggling with substance use disorders. Our drug court team includes our dedicated drug court coordinators, treatment providers, prosecutor, defense attorney, a probation officer and three law enforcement officers, who selflessly give of their time and experience to help the participants free themselves from addiction and become productive members of society.
Just this past week, a person graduated from drug court and thanked the team for helping him free himself from 40 years of addiction and criminal behavior. He now has a good job, has reconnected with his family and gives back to the community in many ways. Without drug court, he would be languishing in prison, soaking up valuable resources. Instead, he pays taxes and has the respect and dignity that he deserves. We will continue to provide opportunities for persons like him to transform their lives.
• Alan R. Hancock and Vickie I. Churchill are judges with Island County Superior Court.