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Analysis: Adult drug courts are effective

Sen. Richard Martinez

SANTA FE — New Mexico’s drug courts — targeting adults with a high risk of being arrested again — cost less than “business as usual” in the criminal justice system, and their graduates are rearrested far less often than similar defendants in a comparison group, nonpartisan legislative analysts say.

But drug courts for juvenile offenders don’t appear to “demonstrate strong impact,” according to the report released Thursday.

About 1,100 adults and juveniles participate in New Mexico’s drug courts, at a cost of over $6 million a year.

But the per-person cost — for adults at least — is less than “business as usual,” such as probation or incarceration, analysts said in their report to the Legislative Finance Committee.

Sen. Richard Martinez, an Española Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said drug courts are incredibly important in New Mexico because of the state’s high rates of drug abuse. As a retired magistrate judge, he said, he saw the impact first hand.

“We do have a horrific drug abuse issue and problem in Northern New Mexico,” he said. “I feel like drug courts have been a saving grace for some of these individuals who are my constituents.”

Responding to the report, a court official said the judiciary is working to make sure juvenile drug courts comply with “best practices.”

The report comes as New Mexico struggles with the highest property crime rate in the nation and second highest violent crime rate, according to FBI data released last month.

Drug courts are an alternative to incarceration for offenders who have addiction problems and are at high risk of rearrest. They generally involved drug testing, treatment, counseling and supervision.

An initial analysis by the Legislative Finance Committee found that adults who complete a drug court program are rearrested about 25 percent of the time within three years — compared with 50 percent for a similar group of defendants. A more comprehensive analysis is underway.

But the report noted that juvenile drug courts are more costly on a per-person basis than adult courts. Juvenile drug courts have also reported increasing rearrest rates for participants in recent years, though there’s not enough data to compare to a control group, legislative analysts said.

“Compared with adult drug courts, New Mexico’s juvenile drug courts are less able to demonstrate their effectiveness, and are experiencing challenges with efficiency in light of declining participation,” the report said.

The legislative report recommends better tracking of data to monitor the performance of the state’s drug courts, in addition to making some changes to the budgeting process.