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TN judge points to effective, underutilized drug-fighting tool

Tennessee state court judge Seth Norman says that he “will continue to see the consequences” of a raging drug problem in Tennessee and nationally so long as misguided criminal law policies are routinely applied wholesale in drug-crime cases.

And that is truly tragic, he contends, given that a proven and far more effective sentencing alternative is readily available to prison incarceration for many defendants.

Those individuals — namely, people with addiction problems and lacking any past history of violent behavior — are much better served by their participation in a diversionary drug-treatment program marked by longer-term care in a court-supervised residential facility.

Norman’s most immediate experience is with so-called DC-4, which is Davidson County’s Drug Court. The judge praises the program along myriad lines, because he says it is flatly effective and a far better landing point for select defendants than is a state penitentiary.

Here’s one reason why, as supported by empirical evidence: drug court-related costs are far cheaper, reportedly about 25% less than what taxpayers mete out on a daily basis for inmate upkeep in a prison.

And here’s another: prisons in Tennessee and across the country are overcrowded to the breaking point, largely so because low-level drug offenders are stuffed into them pursuant to a prison-first strategy.

Norman argues strongly for change, stressing that, “We cannot incarcerate our way out of an addiction crisis.”

Treatment in a residential facility has proven to be effective, he says, and is a doubly attractive option because of its lower pricing relative to penal incarceration.

What Norman impliedly argues is that it is a crime to routinely favor lock-up outcomes over a strategy that truly helps drug users wean themselves of addiction.