Editorial

For generations the war on drugs has raged in our state, communities and even our own families.

Nevertheless, the problem remains — seemingly as entrenched as ever.

For decade after decade, we have tried to tackle the problem of drug addiction with severe laws and prison time.

And just as the saying goes, it’s insane to keep trying the same thing and expect different results.

That’s why we applaud District Attorney Constance Filley Johnson for making good on a campaign promise to establish a new drug court program in Victoria County. We also applaud county commissioners for supporting that court program with a resolution approving its creation at a mid-May meeting.

Dubbed the Community Alliance for Recovery and Empowerment Court or CARE Court, Victoria County’s drug court seeks to provide nonviolent drug offenders with addiction recovery resources and treatments as well as life skills that include job training and coping mechanisms.

For too long, we have taken a purely punitive approach to those accused of crimes who have addictions to drugs, and, so far, we have little success to show for that approach.

About 46% of U.S. adults said they have a family member or close friend who has or is battling drug addiction, according to a Pew Research Center study published in 2017.

Close to 1/3 of Texas inmates are admitted into the prison system because of drug offenses.

And about 60% of Texas inmates have some kind of chemical dependency, according to a 2014 testimony from a former TDCJ director.

Those last two statistics are concerning not only because of the destruction suffered in families’ and people’s lives. They also hint at another downside — the immense costs and inefficiency that comes with a tough-on-crime approach to battling substance addiction.

According to a Texas Criminal Justice Coalition article, incarcerating a person in prison is about seven times more expensive than community supervision with treatment. That adds up quick considering Texas has about 140,000 people behind bars in prisons and state jails.

On the other side of the equation, there’s now ample evidence showing the effectiveness of drug courts.

A recent study by a UHV researcher showed that Victoria County’s DWI court had an about 83% success rate between 2007-2020.

Studies have shown that participants of drug courts, when compared to those who did not participate, re-offend at considerably lower rates.

Although the effectiveness of Victoria County’s drug court remains to be seen, at least the approach is a new one and one that is backed by evidence.

It’s a potential solution in a battle that seems to have gone nowhere.

It may be easy to say those who commit drug crimes should be locked up, but that approach ignores the fact that many with addictions have simply lost control of themselves and cannot get better even if they want to.

That’s why we need to begin thinking about substance addiction less as a moral failing and more of a sickness that can be cured.

We cannot give up on those with addictions and write them off as simply criminals. We have to keep trying to help, and we hope and pray that Victoria County’s drug court will make a difference.

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This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate’s editorial board.

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