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Editorial: Drug court better than jail

Drug court or jail?

The advantage drug court offers to the addict is the chance to craft a better, drug-free life – and stay out of jail. The advantage to the taxpayer? One less person to house, feed and guard in jail. One less junkie on the street looking to break into your house and steal your stuff to feed his habit.

For many reasons, drug court just makes sense.

“You take all those people, if they’re not going to drug court, they’re going to be incarcerated,” Arthur Pepin, the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, told a state House of Representatives finance committee.

The budget proposed by Gov. Susana Martinez would cut almost 60 percent from statewide drug court funding. Drug court currently has a $2.4 million budget. Proposed funding changes would leave a budget of about $1 million for Fiscal Year 2016.

Even though falling oil and gas prices keep reducing the expectations for new state revenue – now down to $83 million from a high of $285 million last summer – the Legislative Finance Committee recommends an increase in drug court spending by $250,000 from its current level in the new fiscal year.

The Martinez administration counters that the courts themselves gave other items a higher priority than they gave drug courts in the budgeting process.

While the administration and the AOC don’t agree on the budget question, they should agree on this: New Mexico has a huge drug abuse problem, one that far too often becomes a widespread and costly crime problem.

A 2013 report by the LFC found that 75 percent of inmates entering New Mexico prisons have a history of drug addiction. The report also found that drug court is more cost-effective than prison-run drug treatment.

As lawmakers wrestle with a tight budget and many worthy requests for money, it would be short-sighted to make such a cut in funding for a program that offers a chance for addicts to break the circle of abuse and crime.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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